Riding the wave of excitement following their reclaiming of the Algarve Cup in Portugal last March, and with the FIFA Women’s World Cup in China a scant two months off, the USA Women’s National Soccer Team has been busy honing its skills with a series of friendly (exhibition) matches in preparation for the upcoming tough international competition. With victories over Denmark, Mexico, Canada, China, Brazil and the ever-challenging Norway, the team has its sights set on its next opponent, Japan. The match is slated for 7:00 p.m. on July 28 at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, CA. It will be broadcast live on ussoccer.com‘s MatchACCESS.
With a very young, but not raw, squad, these athletes are tasked with carrying on the proud tradition of winning that was set forth by the likes of Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers and a boatload of others.
I was in Florida visiting the Kennedy Space Center in ’99 when our women took their second World Cup. Gosh, I don’t know which was more thrilling: witnessing some of the space station being built or following the nonstop soccer coverage. Maybe I’m just being nostalgic, but it seemed like the team became overnight darlings of the media. There were front sports page articles extolling the players’ tenacity, ability and winning ways. I think that the winning part was what initially won over the presses. Everybody loves a winner!
One of the young players to keep an eye on is Carli Lloyd, Algarve Cup MVP. Lloyd’s come a long way since the disappointment of not making the 2004 Olympic team. She debuted the following year in ’05 in a match against Ukraine. Her four-goal-in-four-game performance at the Algarve Cup, including one in the 2-0 championship match against Denmark, highlighted a stellar week for the up-and-coming midfielder.
Another young player to watch out for is forward Heather O’Reilly. No stranger to the spotlight, she was the youngest player (then a mere pup at 19) on the 2004 gold medal–winning Olympic team and was the 2007 Honda Award winner after being voted the best collegiate female soccer player while at the University of North Carolina. But back to the ’04 Games. O’Reilly wasn’t just learning at the feet of the masters. In the semifinal game against Germany, with the score tied 1-1, she took a pass from Mia Hamm and scored the winning goal. Unbelievable.
This past June saw the 35-year anniversary of the enactment of Title IX. In a nutshell, Title IX is a federal law that mandates gender equity in sports at institutions that receive federal funding. Title IX compliance is far from perfect, and indeed some universities have found themselves in hot water in recent years (Vanderbilt, Fresno State). But as flawed as Title IX might be, I shudder to think where we’d be without it. These women played on high school teams that in 1972 did not exist. They were given the opportunity to compete in a sport that they love. And you have to love soccer if you’re going to be on a team, because the training is brutal — but the payoff can be glorious. Just ask Mia Hamm, Briana Scurry or Heather O’Reilly what it was like to stand atop the podium.