The Women’s World Cup is less than 100 days away, the Algarve Cup is right around the corner, and women’s soccer fans everywhere are getting more and more anxious for the thing to HAPPEN already. The anticipation is so great. I love it.
On the men’s side of things, though, things are different. As NPR reported yesterday, the men are busy thinking ahead to 2022 and the controversial Qatar World Cup. Since apparently no one worried about whether it was wise to hold a soccer tournament where the average daily temperature reaches 99 degrees, they’re ‘scrambling’ (7 years in advance is scrambling in the men’s world) to change the tournament to the winter months.
English Premier League owners are beyond angry because the new schedule will interfere with their league play. And they expect to be compensated… which makes sense, really. Why would FIFA interrupt league play and pull the world’s best players away from their professional club duties and divide attention? That’s guaranteed to decrease hype and attention, right?
Contrast this with the way that the NWSL has bent over backward to support the WWC. This league has no room for losing viewership. It’s in it’s third season, which seems to be the season of death for most women’s soccer leagues, and it’s trying desperately to accommodate world cup scheduling and league play. US Soccer has been particularly callous with respect to the international duties of the US players, calling them up for meaningless friendlies in the waning months of an exciting playoff run in the league. Then again, though, without the support of US Soccer (and the Canada Soccer and Mexico), the NWSL wouldn’t be viable at all. And in some respects, the refusal of the league to arrange scheduling around internationals leads to more interesting contests and less lopsided competition. The upcoming season will be interesting to watch from a coach’s standpoint, since losing star players for most of the first half of the season will certainly require some creative placements and utilization of amateur players.
The Seattle Reign, though – they’re sitting pretty. As sad as I was that Kim Little won’t be playing in the World Cup, I am beyond excited to watch her tear up the NWSL competition.
Hope Solo has successfully complied with certain unannounced conditions and is back with the USWNT. Watching her implode over the last few years has been painful, and I really hope she has exorcized whatever demons she has. Even though her personal life has been erratic and violent, her playing is still world-class. She is an absolute joy to watch play.
It’s not fair, I know, to speculate about her problems. That’s not going to stop me, since I’m a soccer fan, and we speculate about inappropriate things. Hope needs to get help with her drinking. I would be shocked if a 30-day sobriety period weren’t part of the plan to get her back on the team. Her memoir is so frank when she discusses her mother’s addiction. She clearly understands the unique pain that comes along with loving someone who is stuck inside addiction, how you can respect their struggle and love their spirit while needing to distance yourself from the person to become whole yourself.
Actually, I wish US Soccer were more upfront about whatever conditions they put on Solo, especially if treatment for alcoholism or some other substance abuse condition was part of the plan. They would never, of course, especially with a woman soccer player: the pressure on these women to be perfect role models is out of control. US Soccer will never recognize that you’re not a ‘bad role model’ if you struggle with addiction or get help for addiction, but it is irresponsible to pretend like alcoholism and addiction don’t exist among professional athletes. Hell, even Hope dismisses criticism about her drinking by claiming that it’s part of athlete culture to work hard and play harder. Denial surrounding alcoholism and addiction does not limit itself to families. But when serious athletes are more likely than non-athletes to drink to excess, open conversations about drinking culture and alcohol abuse need to be a part of soccer culture. Even women’s soccer culture. Even when there are girls out there who look up to these players. Especially when there are girls out there who look up to these players.
Fox Sports is already hyping the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and it’s only February. I will admit that this ad got me excited and a little emotional about the tournament. Then I remembered that emotional manipulation is a big part of advertising…
Why this WWC ad works:
The USWNT is still a clear favorite to advance far in this year’s World Cup, despite some recent lackluster performances. We’re ranked #2 in the world. We won the most recent big tournament. So, if I’m Fox Soccer, I’m asking myself: who wants to root for the big dog? How can we give Americans the underdog story that we soccer-lovers crave? This ad effectively positions one of the most dominant teams in international football as a comeback kid, a cinderella story. A last shot at glory for a country.
America has a score to settle, alright. But it’s with our own legacy – the legacy of the US Women’s National Team. This team, despite so many victories and successes and records, is still living in the shadow of the famous ’99ers. Our addiction to winning is hampering our ability to develop and grow the game, and the world is catching up to us. We are playing scattered and even a little scared, and if things don’t change for the Algarve Cup, I would bet we’ll be real underdogs to the likes of Germany, France, and Japan come June.
But I will say this: if the last half of that video holds and the bars are as filled for the Women’s World Cup in June as they were when the men went down last year, I will be a truly happy women’s soccer fan, even without a victory. I love watching the progression of interest in women’s soccer. I love that Fox is hyping the tournament four months in advance. And I love that our girl Alex Morgan is so recognizable that she becomes a replacement for Jermaine Jones. It’s a good time to be a USWNT fan.