Abby Wambach’s goal against Brazil was a great sports moment, period.
Early on in the Women’s World Cup, Monica Ocampo of Mexico scored a long-range goal against England. I’m not sure how else to describe it. Ocampo shot the ball from 35 yards out. It wasn’t too hard, and it wasn’t too accurate, but it went in.
A minute or two after Ocampo’s goal and the wave of hyperbole that always comes with a 35-yard goal, Adrian Healey asked his booth partner, Kate Markgraf, a former member of the United States Women’s National Team, if the goalie should’ve done better with the shot. It was a subtle way of saying, “Kate, she has to save that.”
Markgraf responded with something to the effect of Well, unless her team has trained with U-15 or U-17 boys teams, she’ll never have seen a shot that hard. This is a woman who once was one of the 20 best players in one of the best soccer-playing nations in the world. And she’s comparing a goal, as a compliment, to a shot by a 15-year-old boy.
There’s a real thin, almost-always-skewing-one-way line when you come from a men’s sport to discuss a women’s sport. It’s not easy for me to talk about women’s soccer. I respect what they do, but it’s not easy for me to enjoy it, aesthetically. I know how much time these women have put into the game and how much these games mean to them. I understand that they’re the best women in the world at what they do, too. And with women’s soccer, where it’s almost impossible to make a living just playing soccer, these women all definitely do care about what they’re doing. But it’s easy to not realize that. I still enjoy the games (I’ve watched as many World Cup games as I can), but it takes effort. The feats themselves aren’t overtly impressive when compared to anything you see in a men’s professional game. They shouldn’t necessarily be compared, but it’s impossible to separate the two when you’re coming to one from the other.
And then you suddenly find yourself screeching, running around your living room at two in the what-was-to-supposed-to-be-a-lazy Sunday afternoon.
Megan Rapinoe (author of the greatest post-game quote from Sunday’s win) bent in a lofted ball with her weaker left foot. Brazil’s goalie overplayed it, and Abby Wambach snapped a header into the open net, tying the game, saving the U.S.’s life seconds before expiration, and clinching the ESPY (in 2012?) for moment of the year. But you know all that.
We all know what happened with the United States Women’s National Soccer Team. That’s something, but don’t let this be another heavy-handed requiem on soccer’s place in the United States or a survey of the role of women in American sport. Maybe just let it be what it was: an absolutely awesome, pee-your-pants-a-little-bit sports moment. Female or male soccer, this is something I can go crazy about. It’s something, it seems, that we’ve all started to get behind.
The U.S. Men’s National team dictates my emotional state more than any other sports team in the world. I love them because they’re American and because they’re our soccer team. It’s the country I grew up in and the sport I grew up playing. I didn’t feel the same way about Hope Solo and Wambach for a number of reasons, but mainly, as I said, because I couldn’t appreciate the games like I wanted to. Sure, they wore the same colors and played the same sport, I just couldn’t relate as much as I felt like I needed to. It wasn’t last summer, and it couldn’t be. But then Sunday’s game happened.
No number of WNBA jokes can dull that moment. There was skill (Rapinoe playing the ball with her off foot and Wambach staying focused behind two Brazilians missing the ball), passion, heart, pride, drama, injustice, justice, and just about every other word we hate to see thrown at a sporting event. But this game deserved all of them. My natural reflex to compare it to the men’s game doesn’t even kick in. It doesn’t need to, and it shouldn’t. Even if it did, it wouldn’t matter. Context or no context, Abby Wambach’s goal—and the U.S. win—was almost as perfect as a sports moment can be. Wrap it all up in an American flag and it’s even easier to see that. I’ll wear my Clint Dempsey jersey tomorrow when the U.S. plays France, and it’ll finally make sense.