But Sunday provided a breath of fresh air in the form of the Women's World Cup quarterfinal between the United States and Brazil, perhaps the most intriguing of the quarterfinal matchups as the US bowed out to Brazil in 2007, a 4-0 thumping.
Normally, I can't stomach women's sports. Sorry, just can't do it. (Hey NBA, want to save some money? Go ahead and submarine the WNBA, from which you are BLEEDING money. But that is neither here nor there.)
But factor in that the beautiful game is played at a high level by the ladies of the US and others around the world, I have such a strong attachment to the game of soccer and the 1999 World Cup championship by the US women is one of my earliest and most vivid sports memories (the drama, the circumstance, and, of course Brandi Chastain. I was 10 and a grown woman took her shirt off on international television. You do the math.) and I found myself actually excited for Sunday's quarterfinal.
I'm not going to rehash the game, but quickly touch on some points that I feel have some bigger implications:
- First of all, let's talk about the villains of the game, starting with Brazil. For the most part, and, granted, I don't watch a ton of women's soccer outside of the World Cup, but in the men's game, I've found the Brazilians to be gregarious, fun to watch and, yes, on occasion, divers. The Brazilian ladies seemed to be of a different breed, at least on Sunday. From the start of play, Marta and her teammates constantly complained about referees's calls (which, may have been valid, but we're getting there), but going so far as to yell at American players that were down and in pain. Following Marta's apparent dive and ensuing penalty kick goal, she was the clear villain in the game. The crowd, and not just the US fans, booed her lustily every time she touched the ball, and with good reason. She seemed like a diva out there, complaining, diving, and all together being a bad sport. That being said, the way the Brazilians closed out extra time was, in a word, classless. Time-wasting is a given in soccer, it's going to happen, but what Erika did, wasting time, getting stretchered off and then hopping up as if nothing happened to her, was one of the poorest displays of sportsmanship I have seen in a long time. Inexcusable.
- The officiating in this game was awful and FIFA needs to start holding these refs accountable. The fact that I have a FIFA referee blacklist at all (you know who you are and you know what you've done) is a testament to soccer's dire need to institute some changes. Deep down, I think I'm a soccer purist and would hate to see the flow of the game interrupted, but there has to be a better way and it's up to FIFA to figure it out. Between Marta's dive, the more than harsh encroachment call, a blatant take down of a US player in the Brazilian box, and a plain-as-day handball in front of a linesman that wasn't called, FIFA is LUCKY the US had the heart and grit to win this game. Speaking of...
- There seems to be a certain something about this US women's squad. Chalk it up to the pedigree of women's soccer in the US, but this team has a never-say-die attitude that looks to carry them far in this tournament. They're only two wins away from a record third Women's World Cup title and are arguably the most talented squad left in the tournament. After such an emotional win, France, or any team left for that matter, would be hard pressed to beat them.
Final note: after making a run into town with my gal, I returned home to watch the replay of the MLS Game of the Week on ESPN, Portland vs. Seattle. As someone who remembers Seattle's debut match in 2009 and the kind of atmosphere that created, I was thrilled to see the environment at Jeld-Wen Stadium Sunday afternoon. It had the feel of an EPL rivalry match and although the quality is a far cry from the EPL, at least the passion is catching up here in the US. When I was a kid growing up watching the MLS, unless you were in DC or LA, chances are the players were playing in front of a half-empty stadium in a struggling market. Hopefully this speaks to the climate of soccer in the US. With USA-Algeria and this most recent win by Wambach and company, hopefully this will foster growth of the beautiful game in the United States.