I’ve been up since the asscrack of dawn, watching the Olympic women’s football bronze medal match between Canada and France and let me just say, this is pretty much the only time you will see me up that early with not a word of complaint. I am not generally a sports fan. Nevertheless, two years after getting pulled into watching soccer by Nic (a lifelong Spain fan) during the 2010 World Cup, I have to say that if you aren’t watching women’s football, you’re missing out.
Since watching that first tournament, I was looking for a team that would make me a genuine fan. I love watching Spain’s men, but their tendency to play perfect, skilled possession without scoring until the last possible second can be irritating. I tried supporting Germany’s guys on the basis of my nearly all-German heritage in both the World Cup and this year’s Euro, but I just don’t find them particularly inspiring, though I did like watching them beat Andy’s Argentinians in 2010. Brazil was big and dynamic and impressive at times, but as a team they lacked that group spirit and strategy that make team sports what they are. I loved Robben and Sneijder and the Netherlands during the World Cup, but found them petulant, unprofessional, and dirty players in this year’s Euro. Alas, none of the men’s teams quite managed to grab me in the gut and heart. They don’t make me want to throw up, they don’t make me scream, and they don’t make me cry.
And then there was the Women’s World Cup last summer, and as resistant as I am to the intense patriotism and nationalism of my home country, I found myself starting to have those inadvertent somatic reactions while watching the US women’s team play. I mean, I’m not gonna lie, it doesn’t hurt that there are so many badass babes and at least a few queers. Abby Wambach and Amy LePeilbet have major butch swagger (however they might identify); Hope Solo is a beautiful basilisk who announced her 150-pound weight proudly on Letterman; Megan Rapinoe is out as gay; captain Christie Rampone is a mom who’s battled Lyme disease; Alex Morgan and her perpetual pink headbands bring the girly girl onto the field…and of course there’s Pia Sundhage, the flawless silver fox coach. But more than that, watching the World Cup last year it was clear that these women were playing high-level, professional, skilled football, and they were playing it as a smart, supportive team. Not a single other team in the World Cup tournament played on that level; even Japan, who beat the US in the final, pulled off some underdog magic. As inspiring and deserved as Japan’s win was, watching my new loves lose in that final was crushing.
This year’s Olympic women’s teams have been such a treat because the level of the game has skyrocketed. It’s not only the US women who look like true professional players anymore; there are many teams that bring it when they step onto the pitch. Going into the Japan-France semifinal, I expected to support Japan after they tugged everyone’s heartstrings during the World Cup, but found myself loving France, repeatedly disappointed when they couldn’t finish their attempts on goal. They’re so quick and sharp! I remembered Gaëtane Thiney and Élise Boussaglia from the World Cup, as well as Louisa Necib and her perfect ponytail and full eye makeup that stays intact throughout the full 90 minutes of every game, an inspiration to hard femmes everywhere. Eugénie Le Sommer’s ability to get forward through a wall of defenders has made her the first player I’ve found myself noticing whenever she appears.
And then there’s the Canadian women’s team, representing my adopted country, who were last place in 2011′s World Cup. The USA-Canada semifinal was without a doubt the best (and most nerve-racking) match I’ve ever seen. Seven goals scored total, a hat trick for Canadian captain Christine Sinclair, three goals scored back-and-forth within 10 minutes, and Alex Morgan’s winning goal in the 123rd minute made this one a major nail-biter. Interest and support for women’s football is growing, too. A BBC commentator noted that the previous record for audiences attending Olympic women’s football matches had been around 26,000. Today, the United States will showdown with Japan in a rematch of the World Cup final in front of 80,000 at Wembley. Numbers like this can only mean good things for the future of these athletes, and I hope it means major investment in training and playing opportunities for them.
This morning the Canadian women’s national team won the bronze medal and did what they set out to do: leave a legacy for Canadian soccer before 2015′s World Cup, as winning goal-scorer Diana Matheson said after the match. The team was visibly exhausted and sloppy; France played better than they did by far, creating exponentially more opportunities to score. But keeper Erin McLeod, assisted by excellent players like Desiree Scott, was impenetrable, and Sophie Schmidt got the ball to Matheson just in time to make it happen. Every game these teams play is high stakes, not for Olympic or national glory but for women’s football as a sport, inspiring girls to put on their boots and go play. High stakes are what make true fandom, and these are stakes that get me where it counts. I can’t fucking wait for 2015, but in the meantime, you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got my USA babies up against Japan this afternoon, and I need to go glue myself to the TV screen.
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