Today, my family sat down to watch the 2019 World Cup Final between USA and Netherlands. Everyone knew before the game that our team was awesome, and most expected them to win. To be honest, the only surprising thing about their performance was the fact that they didn’t put two or three more goals on the scoreboard. My true surprise was what I learned about the greater value of this team, beyond the win on the field.
For the past four years, my 8 year-old son has become a die hard soccer player and fan. He has spent hours practicing outside in our lumpy backyard. He watches premier league games on weekend mornings, memorizing team names and tables (standings). A year ago, we were thrilled to watch games at 8am for the men’s world cup. During this tournament, he and I watched every game that we were physically able to and we loved every minute.
We are used to cheering on the men’s and women’s teams. Cheering on a team so good with my son felt considerably different than normal. Our women’s team is so good that they could simultaneously defend their World Cup title and fight for gender equity in the courts. My son is generally oblivious to the latter, but important in the bigger picture.
In a country where soccer is extremely popular as a youth sport, and is gaining traction among older US fans, the difference today in his demeanor was obvious. He was so proud to watch, knowing the player’s names well (more than the men’s team he fell asleep watching tonight) and very-partially judging every decision by the referee. At half time, he ran outside to reenact the first half highlights, and told us to let him know when the second half started.
I remember doing the same thing when I was a kid. My brother and I would run to the tennis courts up the street after watching the US Open. We ran outside to our hoop to relive the previous night’s March Madness games or our yard to practice touchdown catches and celebrations. By the time the 1994 Men’s World Cup in the United States came around, we had outgrown that stage of life.
I’ve enjoyed watching our women’s team play since Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, but seeing my son reenact their game outside in our yard brought their value to my eyes in a much more meaningful way today. The media have been focused pretty heavily on the way in which this team has promoted gender equity in sports and helped little girls dream bigger. It is true to some degree, but let’s not forget they’ve been doing this for 20 plus years. This isn’t new. What does it mean that we are still focused on that?
This Sunday, however, my son giggle-smiled to the point of almost-tears through the second half as the US team poured on the scoring opportunities. This team did more than win a world cup or help little girls dream bigger. They have helped little soccer players, regardless of gender, dream bigger. My son’s dream of playing for the national team, in a world cup, is more tangible because of this team. (No, it won’t happen, but he’s more excited about it now than ever.) Seeing pictures on Facebook of his male teammates watching the game at their house, in their Alex Morgan jerseys, guarantees that he isn’t the only little boy soccer player dreaming bigger.
I don’t write this to downplay the importance of this team on gender equity in sports, because they hopefully will have more to say and do in that respect. I write this to make sure they get the full credit they deserve for advancing US soccer, not for half of the players out there, but all of them. Even after their win today, articles are popping up about how the rest of the world is catching up to the US in women’s soccer. These women deserve credit for that too, as do Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, and the others that came before them.