I know Liverpool are days away from their first friendly of the preseason (and I have to admit to having preseason training kind of sneak up on me). There are still transfers to be sussed out, we're still short a winger and possibly a couple other things. We're only a month away from the opening of the season. But there's only one soccer story today, and I wanted to write something about it.
I do not abhor women's soccer. But it's pretty damn close. Like a lot of USA fans, I kind of resented that the women's team not so long ago got as much pub as the men's team, as I found their success empty and meaningless. After all, we were the only nation that really cared. And the game itself I found dull and slow. Like women's basketball, I of course believe that they have every right to play the game, but I'm under no obligation to watch it. So when this World Cup started, and everyone who identified me as a soccer fan asked if I'd watch, I told them in no uncertain terms that I wouldn't watch one second.
And it was only an accident that I ended up tuning in yesterday. I woke up with my usual Sunday hangover, finished breakfast, and found nothing else on. Not even a good HBO movie. So what the hell, I'll tune in. It's still footy, right? I got in about the 18th minute, missed the first goal. And by about the 45th minute, I was totally engrossed. When the penalty and sending off came, I was completely entrenched. And I'm proud to say so.
We've all got a list of things we require for a truly enthralling football match. Nick Hornby covered his extensive list, and by extension most of ours, in Fever Pitch. My list is pretty similar, but here goes:
-Both teams scoring
-A sending off
-A saved penalty
-One brilliant individual goal (Pretty sure Marta's qualifies)
And it's that last point that made yesterday's game so watchable. Active snarl between the two teams. Yes, I know it's a World Cup and there's a lot on the line to begin with. The competition should be high. But that's the problem that a lot of women's sports run into. There isn't snarl, or nastiness, or bile. Yesterday was quite different. The combination of Marta's frustration with the US's hacking of her team as well as some diving, the controversy over the penalty (I thought it was a penalty, and thus had to be a sending off), and then it's retaking, the feeling of injustice, the crowd and Marta exchanging in a give-and-take, the blatant gamesmanship of Brazil after they took the lead, all led to the anger juices flowing fully. Maybe any match with Hope Solo in it can be considered sandpaper-y, she seems to have that effect.
But it had everything. But what I felt when Wambach equalized off of Rapinoe's simply wonderous cross wasn't a rush of patriotism or USA support, like when I nearly burst into six after Landon Donovan put Algeria to the sword. No, it was a passion or celebration of the game itself. This was theater that only football played with passion can provide. This was normally something that I would have at best had on in the background while I read the Sunday paper. And yet there I was sitting on the very edge of my couch, gasping with every miss. Maybe it was the emotions being stirred by the ridiculous retaking of the penalty (how dare you do anything to upset my girl Hope!), or just the cut-and-thrust of the game. But it was joyous.
Will I watch the rest of the tournament? I doubt it, maybe the Final. I still don't really care, and I still find women's soccer mostly awful. There was still some of that yesterday, some clearances with the off-foot that were laughable, some changes of direction that would be politely described as "wonky", and an overall speed that wouldn't be considered breakneck.
But for a couple hours yesterday, from a source I never saw coming, I was completely smitten. And I won't forget that match for a very long time.