In retrospect, it feels awfully inevitable, although as it was happening the issue was obviously in doubt for a great deal of their already-legendary run. Through a combination of skill, heart, a little bit of luck, and sheer willpower, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team are gold medal-winners again. Yet despite the fact that the U.S. team has won four of the five titles since the sport was introduced to the Olympic games in 1996, this generation of players always seems to feel more like David than Goliath. They’re the Heart-Attack Kids, and over the last year they’ve given us two matches that we’ll still be talking about fifty years from now: last year’s come-from-behind-to-win-in-penalties World Cup Quarterfinal against Brazil, and Monday’s literal last-second win over Canada (if you were on the fifth floor of 30 Rock at about 5 PM Monday, that thirty-second howl coming out of the edit room was me. My bad.) These games are why we watch sports; there’s incredible skill on display, but there’s also drama, suspense, and last-second heroics. Hollywood wishes it could write material this compelling.
None of this is meant to discount just how good this team is. Hope Solo is the best keeper in the world, and she proved it with two spectacular saves yesterday. Abby Wambach is an incredible striker as well as an incredible leader; she left a part of herself on the pitch at Old Trafford Monday- she may not have scored the winning goal, but she willed it into existence. Rapinoe has an ability on set pieces to rival David Beckham. And by the time the next Cup rolls around, Alex Morgan will be talked about as one of the best players in the world. She’s a dangerous striker, but her ability to set-up goals is as impressive as her ability to score them. The 90’s-era team featuring Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain are rightly lionized as World Champions and trailblazers, but the game has evolved over the last twenty years, and this generation of players should take pride in knowing that they stand shoulder to shoulder with their forebears.
One more thing, speaking of evolution: growing up loving soccer in this country wasn’t easy. Twenty years ago, there were plenty of places for a kid to play, but not a lot of places for a kid to watch. It’s difficult to have soccer heroes when you can’t see the game’s best players doing anything heroic because the matches simply aren’t on TV. As a lover of The Beautiful Game and TRMS’s unofficial World Cup Correspondent, I’m happy to report that things are changing. This generation of young players has no shortage of access to their heroes: Hope Solo and Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey and Abby Wambach are right there on the flat screen in glorious HD. Twenty years ago, if you told me that in 2010 every single World Cup Game would be televised live, and that the 2012 Euro Tournament featuring no American players whatsoever would be getting stellar ratings across the country, and that on a Thursday afternoon in August I’d be able to walk into a NYC bar to find hundreds of people watching a women’s soccer match, unable to look away, dying a little with every touch of the ball, I’d have told you that you were crazy. And I would have been wrong. It’s a good time to be a soccer fan in this country, and its a good time to be a fan of the US Team. And I’m loving every minute of it.