I’m sure the hoopla will be off the charts. I’m sure that having the United States playing in the Women’s World Cup final during July 4th weekend is something television programmers have been waiting to capitalize on. They’ll get their wish, which would only be improved upon if Japan wins today and continues the rivalry these two teams and nations have created within the world of women’s soccer.
You won’t be able to change channels without seeing some form of red, white and blue with each passing image and a corresponding Team USA representative. There’s nothing Americans love more than a good “USA” chant, so combining that with barbecues, beers and a winning team seems like a can’t miss marriage.
But while everyone is sure to simultaneously become a women’s soccer expert in the next few days, has the United States Women’s National Team done enough to promote itself up to this point? Put another way, why does it feel like this World Cup team hasn’t received as much attention as many or most of its predecessors?
We already know that FIFA doesn’t care about the women’s teams. Deadspin has been calling them out repeatedly for injustices during this tournament, like creating marquee matches earlier than necessary – Germany, France and the United States were all on the same half of the draw, though they are probably the three best teams in the world – and placing opposing teams within shouting distance of one another in the same hotels.
But this particular American team doesn’t seem to have had the same pre-tournament hype as years past. I suppose there are a few reasons for this. The team’s two best known players are Hope Solo and Abby Wambach. Solo has had some tumultuous events in her personal life and despite her talent, looks and notoriety from “Dancing With The Stars,” there’s been some hesitation at propping her up as a role model. Wambach, who has grown up through the USWNT, is 35 and at a later stage in her career. Her on-field role has lessened somewhat, though she’s still one of the team’s most dangerous weapons when she’s out there.
Alex Morgan should be that next face in the spotlight. In a way, she has been. We see her on Nationwide and ChapStick commercials and she produced the team’s signature moment of the 2012 Olympics with her game-winning goal against Canada in the semifinals. But despite its success, there seems to be less fanfare for this team and the World Cup, in general, than there was even in 1999 when the sport was still just trying to survive.
I don’t have a great answer for why that is, but it may have to do with teams from the rest of the world being so unknown. I’ve written about sports for more than 10 years and I have to admit that I wouldn’t have been able to name one woman on another team before this tournament began. Actually, I would have been able to remember Marta, but that feels like cheating since she only goes by one name. It’s like the 200 points you get for writing your own name on the SATs.
Even those who don’t compulsively follow men’s soccer know the best players in the world. They know about Messi and Ronaldo and Rooney. Knowing those names and the countries they play for gives a sense of what the U.S. will be up against, which prompts many to seek out info on our own team. Without that sense of competition, the Women’s World Cup suffers in comparison with the casual fan. Many will just assume we’re pretty good and one of the favorites, but it typically stops there.
I guess I’m something of a sports capitalist in that I don’t like having leagues, teams or players thrust upon people if they’re not seeking them out. I don’t like when enthusiasm seems manufactured, like those fake fans they have screaming in front of the stage during the Super Bowl halftime show.
But this team has been staggeringly popular before and probably shouldn’t have had to reach the final on America’s favorite weekend for that sense of excitement to return.