Final thoughts on the Women's World Cup

July, 21, 2011

"I gotta hurry hurry hurry/Now quick quick quick/Just step on the gas cause I don't wanna miss this/This opportunity will only come once in my life, my life" --Alexis Jordan, "Happiness," WWC Theme Song

It played incessantly before each game, at halftime, sometimes twice in a row. It's a teeny bopper anthem about fleeting love and finding it in reverse, about the very generic nature of ecstatic, elastic moments -- ones filled with adrenaline and promise; endorphins and drive; acrobatic and emotional feats; twisting and turning on an international stage. Let's be Zen about it for one second. Let's look at the Beautiful Game on display for 22 days in Germany. What happened? Did women's soccer actually gain momentum, charge forward and return to the U.S. (without winning the cup but absolutely winning an audience)? A following that required appearances on "Good Morning America," "The Today Show," "The Daily Show," "Letterman" and "SportsCenter"?

Did they really return to a ravenous nation ready to wed any USWNT member but, in particular, Hope Solo, ready to sellout WPS games without even a hint that an Abby Wambach might play? Did all of that happen?

It's like the song from Alexis Jordan, a teenage Beyonce-lite that performed at the final with underwhelming dance moves and a hot pink tutu dress: Women's soccer just kind of snuck up on us, got in our heads and wouldn't let go. Unlike the song, which admittedly is perfect for a slumber party but not exactly an international sports arena, women's soccer has a chance to catch on.

It started with the opening ceremonies, largely a choreographed entry into an unpredictable and grueling whirlwind tour, full of pomp and circumstance. Who could anticipate the drama, heroics and characters that would emerge, the tactical/emotional/physical play left on the pitch? There were gender disputes; lightning striking North Korean players into lackluster performances; sing-alongs with Pia Sundhage; Matildas and Les Bleus breathing life into a team game; Homare Sawa so effortlessly finding the back of the net again and again; and the birth of a villain in Marta being booed.

This wasn't only about the Americans and their miracle win over Brazil in Dresden, although that could be its own play within a play. This was about drama and intrigue that the world actually got hooked on. Fifteen-and-a-half million viewers watched the final in Germany, and 13.46 million viewers per minute tuned in for ESPN's U.S.-Japan final, making it the second most-viewed daytime telecast in cable TV history and the most-watched soccer game in the network's history. When the tournament started, these girls were anonymous, toiling in the grass with one goal in mind -- elevate the game. And they did, and that's better than any shiny 1.8 kilogram cup (though it would have been sweet to drink out of it).

These players elevated the game by making people care, a come-out-of-nowhere love that finally eclipsed the one women's soccer image a nation can now let go of -- a sports bra and bare midriff replaced with skill, heart and a tenacity that brought the tournament to the wire. We'll never forget that nail-biter so thick with emotion on both sides that Dick Vitale tweeted "Get the Maolox [sic] out as it is nervous time baby -- Dominating but can't put Japan away. Come on Abby Alex & co. Need this W badly!" Who even knew Dick Vitale could tweet?

There were more tweets per second than any event ever, including the royal wedding. Excuse me, this is women's soccer we're talking about. How awesome is that? Sure, there were columns about choking, about a team that ran out of legs. In a way, it's better the U.S. lost -- it keeps fans wanting more, and they should. The team should want success stateside -- they should eclipse MLS and WNBA, they should make women's sports profitable and Title IX unnecessary.

All the celebrity support in the world can't make a professional women's league survive -- c'mon Tom Hanks, Lil Wayne, Barack Obama, you really want to support these women, this sport, this utterly beautiful game? Buy a team! Then write a new theme song. We don't want the prophecy of the saccharine sweet "Happiness" to come true. This opportunity should not come once in a lifetime. It should last forever.

Jaime Lowe played AYSO soccer for eleven years and never scored a goal. She still loves the sport. She has written for ESPN the Magazine and is the author of Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB (Faber & Faber) and a contributor to Fathers & Daughters & Sports (Random House).


You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?