After the shocking loss to Japan in the Women’s World Cup soccer championship finals on July 17, there are five lessons our nation can take away from the defeat as we look forward to the next tournament four years from now.
1. Hope Solo is getting fairer loser treatment than LeBron James
Hope Solo, the goalie for our women’s World Cup Soccer team, had victory within grasp Sunday. But she went down late in overtime with an ankle injury, and when she came back she gave up a game-tying goal to the Japanese team. During sudden death penalty kicks, when goalies become legends, Solo blew it and let three scores through, and U.S. lost 3-1.
Solo, one of the world’s best goalie, talked a lot of smack after the 2007 Women’s World Cup, pinning the loss on the fact that she was benched as starting goalie. But in her chance at redemption this year she came up small. Just like another American sports icon who talked smack about his old team and didn’t deliver when it counted in the finals.
Yet despite blowing her chance at GOAT-dom, Solo is not taking the “Heat” that LeBron James did for his losing performance in the NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks after a year of trash talk. In fact she’s getting the opposite.
This is curious treatment given LeBron still has at least eight years in him to get a ring, while at 29 this is likely Solo’s last chance to win a World Cup as a starter.
2. Americans only care about women’s sports when we’re winning
The explosion of women’s professional soccer, basketball, and even softball sports here have all occurred mostly because the United States had a national team doing well in international play.
When men’s teams falter in international competition there are calls for people to be fired, changes in the team and “soul searching.” Remember when the U.S. men’s basketball team won the BRONZE in the 2004 Olympics? The entire U.S. basketball squad was restructured and they were dubbed the “Redeem Team” for 2008.
Compare that to women’s golf where once we found out that Michelle Wie wasn’t good nobody cared anymore. Or tennis — now that Venus and Serena Williams are in their twilight years, instead of searching for the next “Venus and Serena” the public has just stopped paying attention.
After years of competing at a high level the women’s team lost a close World Cup finals that was in their hands for most of the game. The two biggest stars of the team Abby Wambach (who became the highest goal scoring American in international play during the finals) and Solo will be in their 30s by the next World Cup. So shouldn’t we be wringing our hands about the next generation of women’s soccer stars?
3. Americans Still Don’t Care about Soccer
No matter how much ESPN has tried; no matter how well the U.S. men did last summer in Johannesburg; no matter how many millions of Latino-American fans there are; and no matter how many paparazzi shots are taken of David and Victoria Beckham, Americans still don’t care about soccer.
First, we don’t like international sports that we’re not good at. Second, soccer requires an extended attention span, which doesn’t sit well with an audience that’s used to the starts, stops and timeouts of basketball, football and baseball.
4. This soccer championship means more to Japan than the Superbowl did to New Orleans
Within hours of the U.S. losing, media outlets were already spinning this loss into condescending international pity, saying the victory came from a mentality made resilient from recent disasters.
While condescending and annoying, it is actually the truth. It was frustrating how often the New Orleans Saints’ Superbowl win was depicted as this giant band-aid for the city’s pain.
However, in Japan’s recent earthquakes, they lost entire towns, and they still risk losing sports franchises as they recover from one of the worst natural disasters in history. This could be Japan’s ONLY sports victory for years to come as they rebuild. The sight of those women celebrating after the loss was incredibly moving, even more so because they were the clear underdog.
5. Obama has done wonders for our image abroad
It wasn’t long ago that American teams were booed in global competitions because the world hated George W. Bush.
It got so bad that the 2004 U.S. men’s basketball team had to live on a boat for their safety due to strong anti-American sentiment. But since Barack Obama took office our teams have been getting cheers, as they did in the Men’s World Cup in Johannesburg last year. The U.S. earned praise again this year as the American women’s soccer team have been respected as honest, plucky underdogs rather than the extended hand of the American empire.
Amazing how that Obama flava can rub off everywhere on the planet expect at home.
This article originally appeared in TheLoop21.com under the headline “Five Lessons From the Women’s World Cup Soccer FIFA Loss.”