Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Live from Lyon: USA v Netherlands

In a bit of a departure from prior entries, allow me to indulge a bit in trying to explain my fascination with the Women's World Cup. Alternately, you can think of this post as, "What the Women's World Cup Means to Me."

I grew up in a pretty anti-sports household. In my family, education was what mattered. Entertainment could be found in board or card games; ironically, even reading for pleasure wasn't particularly emphasized. My brothers, or at least one of them, wrestled. One played pool. I bowled (that would be 10-pin, thank you very much). Title IX was a law by the time I was 11, but it wasn't a reality. I swam competitively for a bit in middle school, but if truth be told, my most athletic pursuit was, I kid you not, cheerleading!

As you might imagine, spectator sports were also not a big thing. As a typical horse-crazed girl I did watch the triple crown every year, read every black stallion book on the planet multiple times, and sometimes fantasized about being a jockey, but um, well, they were all male.

Fast forward to my young professional life. In 1985, two years out of college and working for a tech company (Stratus), a bunch of twenty-somethings started playing pickup soccer at work. I joined for the social aspect, but something about the game and the skill of some of the other women on the field attracted me, so in the fall of 1985 I went looking for a women's soccer team, and I was lucky enough to find the Charles River Women's soccer club, now known as, "The Chucks."

I was never great at soccer, but I loved it. I loved being part of a team, watching how coordinated play could turn individuals into a functioning unit. Three years later, when I moved to Berkeley for grad school, I set out to find a team and ultimately started the Berkeley Bruisers with Nancy Geimer (who I met at tryouts for another team in the area). I could write at great length about the Bruisers, but suffice it to say that while one of a tiny number of women in graduate school, the Bruisers gave me a group of diverse, talented, and athletic female friends and two non-computer science male friends -- coaches Jim and Andy!

Fast forward to 1999. The Women's World Cup is in the US! (Who even knew there was such a thing as a women's world cup???) I bought tickets for the games in Foxboro. To this day, I still remember the wave of emotion that swept over me as the US women took the field. I got it. These were people like me doing something I loved. And they did it at a level I'd never seen before. Suddenly, I understood spectator sports in a way I never had.

I watched the 1999 final from the comfort of my living room with my 18 month-old beer-swigging son, who dubbed the sport "mommy ball." He'd been coming to games from the time he was four months old (there being little soccer in New England between December and April). For a good year or two afterward, the only television my son watched was the 1999 world cup final and then, because my husband couldn't bear one more viewing, VHS tapes from the '91, '95, and '99 world cups. By the time he was five, my son knew every goal ever scored by the US in a world cup. And I had fallen for Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Joy Fawcett (who I had actually seen play as a student at Berkeley), Kristine Lilly, and Brandi Chastain (who, BTW, sat in the row in front of me on my flight from Lyon to Munich).

WUSA happened, and I have to confess, I kind of missed it. I was a mom with two small kids and a desperately-seeking-tenure professor. In 2003, when the women's world cup returned to the US, due to the SARS outbreak in China, I decided that I was going to see the final in person. By sheer dumb luck (and a wonderful travel agent), my son and I ended up in the hotel where the German, Swedish, and Canadian teams were staying. It was the weekend of a lifetime. We hung out in the lobby with players, got autographs, cheered on both Germany and Sweden before and after their matches, and came home with Silke Rottenberg's Goalie Gloves.

When WUSA folded, I felt that I had failed. If I, a soccer playing, 99er-loving fan, hadn't been attending games, is it no wonder the league didn't make it? (I will lay some of the blame on WUSA marketing as well.) So, when the WPS was created, I become a devoted fan -- I had season tickets to the Boston Breakers every year. I actively bid for Project Pink team jerseys, and I started traveling to see the USWNT.

I took both kids to the 2004 farewell match for Mia, Joy, and Brandi. I went to Cincinnati on crutches to see Kristine Lilly's last international goal. And thanks to the encouragement of former Chucks' goalie, Becks Ruck, I started attending the Women's World Cup.

2007 Game in Hartford
In 2011, my son, Becks, and I did the first round USA games, training around Germany, hanging out at the traveling ESPN. And we got to chat with Abby Wambach.

2011 Women's World Cup: Dresden

In 2012, I had the incredible honor to be on a panel with Kristine Lilly. 

In 2013, I wrote a tribute to the USWNT.

In 2015, I did the entire Women's World Cup in Canada: more games than I can remember, but all catalogued here.

And, as you know, if you've read this far, I just finished my 2019 French Odyssey. This one turned out to be about so much more than soccer -- it was about gender equality, inclusion, equal pay, and so much more. When is the last time that A) the chant from the crowd at a final sporting event was, "Equal Pay." and B) the leaders of the organization sponsoring the event were uniformly and unanimously boo'd? (And as you know, my feelings about the FIFA museum were pretty negative.) Megan Rapinoe is the new face of women's soccer, equality, gay rights, inclusion, you name it!

If you have not read any of the news coming out of the tournament -- your assigned reading is just three articles -- any three from any of a gazillion reputable news sources. Just search for "USWNT wins World Cup." Each one brings something different, but the message is consistent and unmistakable -- this wasn't just about winning a soccer tournament, this was about changing the world.

And without further ado, the final: USA vs the Netherlands

Although relative newcomers to the Women's World Cup (this was only their second appearance), the Netherlands are the reigning European champs and the USA are the reigning world champions -- sounds like a great match. Our seats in the very uppermost row, smack center behind the Dutch goal in the first half, provided a surprisingly good view of the field.

The US began its game as it has this entire tournament -- putting pressure on the opponent's defense -- zippy runs up the right side by Megan Rapinoe; dazzling footwork by Rose Lavalle; crosses from Tobin Heath. However, the Dutch were able to do what no other team had done this tournament: hold the US scoreless - for 15 minutes; 30 minutes; the whole first half; sixty minutes! It was a hotly contested match -- the US kept the ball in its attacking half for most of that time, but the Dutch looked threatening regularly, and it certainly wasn't a calm and comfortable game, by any stretch. And then, in the 61st minute, the VAR suggested a look at a tackle inside the Dutch box, and sure enough, contact between Stefanie van der Gragt and Alex Morgan was deemed penalty-worthy. And there she stood, Megan Rapinoe, at the penalty spot for the third time, and for the third time, she nailed it.

1-0 USA.

As if to say, "We didn't need the PK to win this match," eight minutes later Rose Lavalle did what Rose Lavalle does and single-handedly sliced and diced the Dutch defense to lay in a rocket of a shot.

2-0 USA!

And then, unlike in earlier knock out round games, the USA did not sink back into a defensive posture but continued pushing and dazzling. There were at least three different attacks that looked like certain goals, but Dutch keeper, Sari van Veenendaal, who unsurprisingly won the Golden Glove award (best goal keeping), was superb, using every part of her body to block the stream of shots. The onslaught continued until the final ten minutes, when even this devoted fan kind of wanted to boo the time-wasting behavior of the US.

But then it was all over and the USA had done it -- retained their crown, become the second team (after Germany) to win back to back world cups, and earned their fourth star.

The Dutch team had earned the respect of the entire crowd and it was heartwarming to see the entire stadium honor them as they did their lap around the stadium. There was great rejoicing, celebration, and ultimately, the US team receiving the World Cup trophy, being showered with glitter, and celebrated with fireworks. (Smugmug link with password wwc2019final)

And not just one selfie this time, but a collage of meet-ups with all my "World Cup" buddies.

The Olson Family Becks -- my stalwart World Cup Buddy
Beth Martens and Family Former Bruisers: Nancy Geimer and Chris Vance

A few backstories seem required. I opened this year's tournament with Mike and Teresa Olson in Paris. We met up several times in Paris as we each dashed off to do different side trips and then all met again at Lyon with their whole family (kids and partners), and we celebrated the victory afterwards with them and Teresa's sister's family.

Becks was a Charles River teammate (and awesome goalie) who started me off on my World Cup Odysseys in 2011 -- I remain grateful!

Chris and Nancy were Berkeley Bruisers and in 2011, we had made no prior arrangements to get together. Becks and I got to the game in Dresden early and were pretty much sitting alone in an entire section when two women happened to be in the seats immediately behind us -- they were Nancy and Chris! Since then, we've tried to meet up at some point during our respective World Cup journeys.

And, in 2015, I discovered that teammate Beth Martens was in Vancouver with her family, and we enjoyed a pre-final boat trip down the Indian Arm together. Although this photo was taken at the airport, we did meet up outside the stadium.

And that's a wrap on the 2019 Women's World Cup. If you are fortunate enough to have a local NWSL team -- support them! Keep your eyes on the press about the USWNT equal pay lawsuit. Tell FIFA gender discrimination isn't good business.

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