American Ladies do more than fill the Space of 1999


Kara McDermott reports from the Women’s World Cup team conference call.

Do you think they ever get tired, the US Women’s National Team with the constant comparison to 1999?

In a teleconference today, US forward and current American hero Abbie Wambach, with words as blunt as her goals, answered that question:

“Respect has to be given to the women who came before us. If I ever said yes, I would be indirectly slapping those women who came before me in the face.â”

Over and over the question was posed with slight variations to coach Pia Sundhage, Wambach, and defenders Rachel Buehler and Ali Krieger. I even started to wonder, is this all we had to talk about in the precious minutes given to us with these athletes?

But to deny that this year’s World Cup squad is facing down the shadows of iconic soccer stars like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Michelle Akers just as much as Japan’s quick technical play is unrealistic.

1999 holds a place on a pedestal. That fairy tale is engrained in the narrative of women’s soccer history as much as any young girl can recite the plot of Cinderella. But twelve years later, the current squad is climbing up to that exalted position one game at a time.

As Krieger stated, “We are a different team, a different generation. No one can repeat that. We’re trying to write a new story for US soccer.”

And they seem to have the tools to do it. The players praised Sundhage’s coaching style which by her own admission allows the players to be creative and free to play to their strengths.

Sundhage in turn praised the players’ singing in the locker room.

The character of this team, from their harmony in the locker room to their chemistry on the field, is drawing the fans in. Come for the clutch goals against big rivals, stay for the humility and pure love of the game the players show.

In a popular culture that loves to paint men as slobby buffoons and women as catty shrews for laughs, seeing Wambach and Hope Solo embrace with tears in their eyes and ardently try to pass the credit for their win against Brazil to each other is the real example to the sporting world.

Those just tuning in are looking for a hero, and Wambach seems to fit the bill. Competitive, singularly focused and with a penchant for getting it done, she’s everything we Americans love in an athlete. Does Wambach embrace her role as a figurehead for women’s soccer in America and hero to girls playing Saturday morning games down at Marymoor?

As she says, her goal is ‘not to inspire, but give these girls a platform to inspire themselves.’

But when pressed to explain what it was about her that allowed her to come through with big goals in big games, you could almost hear her eyes roll on the other end of the line in Frankfurt.

“Truthfully, I have no idea. I was in a position to score goals and my teammates put me in that position…if you have the a ‘we’ mentality more than a ‘me’ mentality, you are more likely to win, and in a way that inspires people.”

And in the brilliance of simple truth, perhaps she summed up what makes this team great, as great as any team that have come before. Sunday’s result will be decided Sunday, but for now this squad has set their own measure for future teams to live up to, not only with their victories but with their character. After all, isn’t that the real impact of 1999?


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