By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The idea was to conduct a little sociological experiment: to see if I could get a bunch of guys over on a Sunday morning to watch football. Not much of an experiment you say? Well, I meant football as in what only we here in the USA insist on calling soccer, and women’s soccer to boot (so to speak).
So, the question was, would a bunch of hairy-knuckled males give up their Football Sunday in order to watch women play soccer, and would the game maintain the guys’ interest beyond the initial fetishistic fun of watching healthy, spirited, attractive, aggressive, determined, accomplished, confident, prone-to-stripping-off-their-tops-after-a-big-goal . . . er, excuse me . . . strong women do battle in shorts?
Why did I care? I count myself among the seven people nationwide who regularly watched the just-gone-down-the-tubes WUSA soccer league matches on KPAX. Like a lot of “tween” girls, I too fell in love with the American women during their 1999 World Cup win — and it wasn’t because of spunky defender Brandi Chastain tearing off her shirt after the winning penalty against China. Rather, it was the unabashed joy the team showed with each other and with their opponents — a sisterhood spirit that stood in sharp contrast to the grossly commercial, me-first and sometimes mean-spirited tone of men’s professional sports, and especially of our embarrassingly triumphal Olympic Dream Teams.
But these women playing on Sunday — among them the “famous five” of Chastain, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Joy Fawcett and Kristine Lilly, who have all been on the national team since it won the world’s first women’s World Cup in 1991, and who followed that with an Olympic gold in ’96, the ’99 World Cup and an Olympic silver medal in 2000 — are different. They’re aggressive, but unselfish. Fierce, but fair. Watching them in a tune-up game a couple weeks ago against overmatched Mexico, I saw one of the USA players do something remarkable. With her team on the attack, she purposely put the ball out of bounds to allow a shaken-up Mexican player time to recover.
The women’s national soccer team also happens to be one of the best teams in the history of international sports. Their record speaks for itself, but watching them play in person a few weeks ago at the fantastic Home Depot Center in Carson (site of the Women’s World Cup finals and third-place match on October 11 and 12), I got a taste of just how creative and daring they really are. Our pitiable men’s national soccer team should be made to watch every game for homework.
I can’t make that happen, but the opening weekend of the 2003 Women’s World Cup, mere days after my beloved women’s pro soccer league lost its financial backers and shut down, seemed like the right occasion to drum up some male support for the sport.
It didn’t hurt my cause that on Sunday the favored Team USA was slated to play Sweden, no slouch in the field. Plus, the Teutonic Swedes favor wearing their hair in pigtails making them look like a gang of Silver Lake punk-rock girls, only with tone, tan and cleats.
A problem confronting the experiment, though, was the game time: 9:30 a.m. It’s one thing to ask your friends to give up Football Sunday to watch women’s soccer; it’s another thing to ask them to do it before 10 a.m. Clearly, doughnuts were called for. My always-game wife and I bought 29 of them. Plus six cinnamon rolls, 32 eggs, 18 sausage links of various persuasions (grilled on the Weber), vats of coffee, and a hill of fruit salad with optional vanilla yogurt topping.
In the advanced stages of seasonal tuberculosis, I was already flying on Benadryl, coffee and glazed doughnuts by the time the first guest arrived — 10 minutes late. More people came, and to my surprise a good number of the invitees were sitting in front of the television as the match got under way, plates full of eggs, sausages and doughnuts. The first 10 minutes went a bit slowly — the players seemed sluggish. I worried that the assembled would start calling for the Jets game. But then, relentless 5’11” forward Abby Wambach got the ball on the sideline, deftly dribbled around her defender and left the ball for Hamm in perfect scoring position. Instead of taking the shot, though, Hamm touched it on for a charging Kristine Lilly (the team’s best player) who slammed the ball into the upper left corner. It was beautiful.
“So, what do you think of this little social experiment?” I asked one of the guys after the goal.
“What’s the experiment?”
“Watching women’s soccer on Football Sunday.”
“Dude, you have a mountain of doughnuts out there. That kind of screws the test, doesn’t it?”
Hmm. Right. Even so, it was still interesting that these men — writers and impractical dreamers, almost all at a loss with a screwdriver — were gathered around the TV watching these gnarly women play soccer on Football Sunday while their girlfriend and wives, all good with drills and also the primary breadwinners, chatted in the other rooms.