The Riddle of Soccer in America

The United States Women won their third FIFA Women’s World Cup title in Canada, in spite of looking and performing below their World #2 ranking at times. But before I examine what it all means and what is next in the riddle that is Soccer in America, let’s take a look at how they got the Cup.

One June 8th, the United States beat Australia in their first group game 3-1 behind a two-goal effort from Megan Rapinoe, with Christen Press adding the 3rd goal. In this first game they looked good and Alex Morgan played well subbing in late, her first appearance on the pitch since returning from injury.

The second game against Sweden four days later ended in a scoreless draw, where the US just couldn’t manage to get anything together. The final group game, a 1-0 win against Nigeria, was won by a goal from super-sub Abby Wambach. This put them in first place of the aptly titled “Group of Death,” heading to the knockout stage.

And in that first win or go home game against Colombia, hopes were not that high. The team didn’t seem to be getting better as the tournament progressed, their best game still being their first against Australia. But they did manage to move past Colombia 2-0 behind goals from Morgan and Lloyd, again, in spite of the fact that they just didn’t look all that confident.

But fortune favored the US as the beat China 1-0 in the quarterfinals to set up a Goliath match-up between #1 Germany and #2 US. In that game against Germany, the US looked as great as they could be and convincingly defeated Germany 2-0 behind goals from Lloyd and Kelley O’Hara, looking the best they had all World Cup long.

This win set up a rematch from the 2011 Women’s World Cup Final against defending champions Japan, who were looking to make history repeat itself.

And with a US team fresh off their best performance the Japanese players, and most of the world, expected a bit of a letdown. But that’s not what happened. The US came out fast… Very fast! Sixteen minutes in it was 4-0 with Lloyd’s hat trick being completed with a long shot which made me think of a young David Beckham, who scored from a similar distance as a teenager at Manchester United. The one goal not scored by Lloyd in that first half coming from Lauren Holiday.

Eleven minutes later the shell-shocked Japan found the back of the net against the stout US defense which until that moment had not conceded a goal since the first game verse Australia.

The second half saw Japan get one more goal back, before the US countered with another goal of its own a mere two minutes later. As the 90 minutes dwindled, veterans Wambach and Christie Rampone were subbed in to be on the pitch when the whistle sounded. That is who they wanted on the pitch for the final whistle and then it blew and they won the cup for the first time since 1999, becoming the first Women’s team to win three World Cup titles.

The United States National Teams really know how to end a World Cup run. In 2014 the USMNT lost to Belgium, despite the now legendary performance by the Secretary of Defense, Tim Howard. And a year later, the USWNT brought the Cup home to the States in what can only be described as an offensive explosion.

But what does it all mean?

The obvious answer is that the US women are better than the US men, but I don’t know if that’s true. Because on the global circuit there are more quality teams in the Men’s game than there are in the Women’s. But for the US, there are similarities between the last two World Cup runs, one that was and is, and one that could have been.

The one similarity that exists is heroes emerge from the World Cup. Carli Lloyd emerged as a hero in victory just as Tim Howard did in defeat. But the almost similarity is the one that is more intriguing. Abby Wambach a legend already, sat on the bench as a super-sub and played a role in this World Cup that would have been perfectly suited for Landon Donovan in the last World Cup, had he been named to the team. But that wasn’t to be.

And what now? The MLS did its best to capitalize on the 2014 World Cup Soccer Fever that gripped a nation, so how will the WPSL do trying to capitalize not just on a good showing, but on a victory?

I don’t know. I can surmise that it will continue to exist, as it was established before the World Cup victory and not after, like the ill-fated WUSA, which was created after the US Women’s last World Cup Victory in 1999. The WPSL is actually America’s third attempt as such a league, as the WPS created in 2011, folder barely a year after and the remnants of which created this current league.

I, for my part, enjoy soccer. I always enjoy the World Cup, but I’ll watch any soccer I can, even on Univision, which broadcasts in Spanish, a language I do not speak. But I am not a normal American. Most of us grew up playing youth soccer and then gave up, I know I did. But I came back to the game, which isn’t something that happens often.

I enjoy the game and to me, unlike other sports, I find the women’s game, just as equal to the men’s game. So will anything happen as a result of this victory? I’m sure the WPLS will get a short term bump in attendance, but I hope that both American leagues get a boost in the long haul after two great World Cup showings in consecutive years.

That is what I hope… But will it come to fruition? I am just not sure. Soccer as a major American sport is just a riddle the country is still trying to solve.