WOMEN MOVE INTO SOCCER SPOTLIGHT AS WORLD CUP APPROACHES
The Washington Post’s Steve Goff is heading to China, which is great news for those of us unable to travel to Beijing (which apparently includes just about every news outlet except USA Today, Sports Illustrated (but not Grant Wahl), and a scant few others… New York Times, not sending a reporter, disappoints again, though I guess they might have a China bureau who could write some reports. I really want to take their soccer coverage over with Jack Bell. We’d kill everybody.)
It’s even better news that a paper like the Post is investing in women’s soccer coverage. It no doubt helps they have a solid local team that’s not waiting for the WUSA to return in order to keep the faith in the ladies’ game.
After the jump are three (of the many) things to watch for when the World Cup kicks off on September 10…
Move over Mia
I know, it’s blasphemy, or maybe it now goes without saying, but Abby Wambach might be better than Mia Hamm. You’ve heard the phrase ‘a man among boys,’ well, Abby is a woman among girls. She towers over most opponents, outweighs most opponents, out-muscles most opponents, and out-skills them. At 5-foot-11-inches, there is no avoiding her physicality on the field, but like the most talented NBA centers, pure size only gets you so far. Wambach is as good technically as anyone on the field. And then there is her mentality: she also out-wits most opponents.
The last game I witnessed was the 2-0 friendly victory over Brazil at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, in which Abby had one goal in the box score but fulfilled countless more on the field. She drew more attention and more fouls than any player I’ve seen in a long time, men or women, and single-handedly ruined the match for the Brazilian defense. While she was man-handled (woman-handled? Man, even our language is sexist) innumerable times, she picked herself up and motored on. Her engine never quits. She is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Anyone who didn’t know this already will finally figure this out in Beijing. She is a less-injury-prone, and taller Wayne Rooney.
Out of the Shadows
In the Post Mia Hamm era, in the aftermath of the Brandi Chastain sports-bra-explosion, and in the shadow of the present incarnation of the greatest-female-soccer-player, Abby Wambach, may I offer up Natasha Kai. Young, talented, and covered in tattoos, the native Hawaiian was a late addition to the World Cup squad. It had those of us who have followed the team thanking the heavens. Like DaMarcus Beasley for the men, Kai can bring speed, craftiness, and unrelenting determination to the WNT. If she doesn’t earn a starting spot, look for Kai to be tearing up the flanks or chasing through balls from Wambach and Lilly in the middle when she gets her chance off the bench (likely dominate in at least some of the early games, all the ladies should get a chance). I’m gonna go ahead and call it a coming out party. And what with her Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino and white ancestry, no one is a better symbol for America than Kai.
The Host Nation
Holy crap this place is crazy. The population; the construction; the pollution. While China battles it’s way through an industrial revolution and readies itself for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games (now with no lead!), we have the World Cup-as-test-run. How will the oft-road-blocked international media be welcomed? How transparent will the hosts be? How well will it all work out? If history is any guide, I would not bet against China, a strong nation with extreme pride. Adding to the intrigue, China isn’t exactly a bastion of women’s rights, making the Women’s World Cup an important event.
“It is a different situation (in China),” Abby Wambach told me a few weeks ago after a training session at Giants Stadium and before they rolled through Brazil. “Our feeling is that it’s about the history of women’s soccer. It’s been able to help all of these other countries by virtue of what we do and our success rate. With us getting paid and being able to play this sport as our job, we find that other countries kind of follow in suit. We like to be the leaders in that realm…
As far as the political stuff, we don’t get into that. The best part of why we do what we do is that when you cross a pitch and come into a game environment all that other stuff doesn’t matter. You don’t take any political affiliation with you. That’s not what we’re about or what sports are about.”
But is it more important for the Women’s World Cup to be in a place like China than say here in the U.S.?
“Absolutely,” Wambach quicky responded. “It’s the only way the sport can grow on the women’s side. It’s the most popular sport in the world on the men’s side, and the only way we can grow it, get more girls and women involved, is exposure. Putting the World Cup in China, the Olympics in China, it’s going to be an exciting next few years.”
You can follow along with the ladies in the Empire Of The Sun on their blog. And it looks like Steve Goff will be just about the only soccer writer traveling to China, though I would guess