US women celebrating on top stage

Commentary

I vividly remember falling in love with women’s soccer. It was exactly twenty years ago when the USA women, led by the likes of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain captured the Women’s World Cup in a history-making moment for women’s athletics.

The largest audience ever tuned in from all over the globe to watch the Americans’ victory over China, punctuated by Chastain’s jerseyless celebration at the Rose Bowl stadium.

The impact of that special team continues to ripple through the sport today: it was so much more than the coveted trophy and hard-fought title to the United States’ program.

That moment in time gave a generation of girls, now women, including Penn State standouts Ali Krieger and Alyssa Naeher, both part of the Women’s National Team today, the tangible dream of becoming professional soccer players. That team of trailblazers went on to become coaches, mentors, ambassadors and warriors for their sport.

Two decades later, another team of American women are representing their program and their country as defending champions, considered by many to be the greatest women’s team of all time. And this is a very different time and a different team from the one that banged down doors and shattered glass ceilings in 1999.

Through the last few weeks of play, the U.S. Women’s National Team has been showered with accolades for their domination in the early rounds, and their defensive prowess in the recent knockout contests.

But they’ve also been criticized for excessive celebration and even unsportsmanlike arrogance, including by England’s coach leading up to today’s semifinal match. One U.S. soccer star has even traded Twitter barbs with the president.

While the U.S. athletes defend their swagger, calling it confidence rather than cockiness, it’s hard not to remember the advice: “act like you’ve been there before.” Still, this U.S. team is fighting for more than another championship.

In spite of the program’s decades of success, including more wins and certainly more championships than their male counterparts, they continue to fight for equal pay. While internationally men’s soccer continues to reign supreme in terms of attendance, television viewership and revenue, the Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. women topped the American men’s team in revenue in each of the last three years.

The debate will continue until a court rules on the women’s pending lawsuit. But in the meantime, the U.S. team charges on, looking for two more victories to once again hoist the FIFA World Cup.

Two decades removed from that phenomenal 1999 team, women’s soccer is still making headlines, and with more media coverage, comes more scrutiny. And while that spotlight/bulls-eye may come with some criticism toward the defending champs, it is also an indication of the status that women’s soccer and particularly the U.S. team have earned.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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