Every now and then, 43 years ago exhibits its impact all over again.
Every now and then, the fruits of Title IX demonstrate their importance for women’s sports in the United States.
Take a certain soccer match in Montreal on Tuesday.
America has advanced its women’s national team to a World Cup final, something that should only be considered big news nationally when it doesn’t happen. Amazingly, it hasn’t three times since 1991.
But while this current U.S. team isn’t in the same stratosphere as the best American side ever assembled (1999), it was plenty good and fortunate enough to eliminate Germany 2-0 and live for Sunday’s final against the winner of today’s match between England and defending champion Japan.
The Americans should win and be crowned World Cup champions for a third time, because England is dead-flat average on its best day and Japan is a shadow of the side that upset the U.S. in the final four years ago.
We should always win, at least until the rest of the world takes the women’s game seriously. Which it probably never will.
We care about it more, invest in it more, nurture it more.
In 2006, FIFA concluded that 270 million people across the globe were actively involved in the game. It also found that the U.S. had more registered female players (almost 1.7 million) than the rest of the world combined.
Its youth participation was estimated at 1.5 million.
The next closest country was Canada at 407,000.
It’s a staggering gap between us and everyone else when you consider the number of college players on scholarship in America each year, how the U.S. financially supports its national team with residency camps and stipends and playing friendlies at any and all spots in the world.
You’re not going to see little girls in China or England or Japan or Germany for that matter playing pickup games at local fields. It’s just not as important to them.
If we’re being honest, most women’s soccer games involving the U.S. should resemble Kentucky basketball against a junior college side.
But they don’t, and that has a whole lot to do with how we build our team.
We are not the most tactical side. We are not the most sophisticated side. The least tactical player on France has more creativity than our best player. We don’t spend 90 minutes running off the ball or playing triangle soccer.
What we have is big, strong, female athletes, who from a young age are taught that winning is the most important thing and success comes from constant pressure and aggressive attacks, meaning the best youth players are always going to score against those not technically sound enough to pass the ball out of trouble or strong enough to simply clear it.
The best of the best then grow up and become American stars.
But ours is not a soccer culture.
Our youth plays the game but doesn’t watch it. Most, anyway.
Example: A friend’s daughter is a terrific U-10 club player in California, and she recently executed a free kick during a match. The opposing side never moved, all staring at the referee as the ball sailed past them, not understanding a whistle was not needed for the kick to commence.
That’s a lack of nuance, of not understanding the game.
The eventual result: Every now and then over the years, a Germany or Brazil or Japan has risen to the occasion and tactically outplayed America’s power at the national level.
It shouldn’t happen but does.
It’s the only way other nations can compete.
The U.S. actually played by far its best match of this World Cup on Tuesday, switching from its tired, antiquated 4-4-2 set to a more dynamic, unpredictable 4-3-3, at least until veteran Abby Wambach entered as a substitute in the 80th minute and the 4-4-2 was needed to protect the veteran whose career is on its last legs.
The U.S. was just as lucky as impressive, avoiding a red card that should have been called on Julie Johnston for pulling down an opponent from behind in the box in the 60th minute, having Celia Sasic (the tournament’s leading scorer) of Germany then miss a penalty kick wide left, being on the receiving end of a gift call when Alex Morgan was fouled outside the box and yet the U.S. then being awarded a penalty kick that Carli Lloyd stuck for a 1-0 lead.
But the Americans also controlled the midfield against a German side obviously weary from playing 120 minutes against France three days ago. The U.S. showed more skill than it had in previous matches, creating chances out of sophisticated movement. Its defense has remained stellar throughout the event. The back line held a team that had scored 20 goals this tournament to zero. It controlled the middle and owned the flanks. Fantastic stuff.
This isn’t the ’99 team. It’s not close. That team might beat this one 5-0. That’s how good Brandi Chastain and her side full of sports bras were. They revolutionized the sport nationally.
I suppose if the U.S. emerges victorious Sunday, any ideas about how we should change the way we build our national team would prove meaningless to most. Winning is all that matters in America, and our players are drilled with that concept from the first time they kick a ball.
We shouldn’t lose at women’s soccer. Ever.
Not with the sort of advantages we own.
More registered female players than the rest of the world combined.
They played a World Cup soccer match in Montreal on Tuesday, and in a small but significant way, 43 years ago yet again exhibited its impact.
Just another in a long, long list of Title IX triumphs.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.