In between running errands and enjoying all the sunshine, many Americans also had one other event on their minds this weekend: soccer. But, it wasn’t just any game. Instead, it was the U.S. Women’s Soccer team’s game against Japan for the World Cup title.
Evoking memories of what occurred over a decade ago, it seemed just as exciting and heart-wrenching. Twelve years ago, the unstoppable U.S. Women’s Soccer team stole the hearts of many Americans and put stars like Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, and Captain Christine Rampone as serious contenders in the world of international, competitive soccer. A world that, up to that point, Americans had been cast away from.
But a full twelve years later, it’s wonderful to see the legacy of women’s soccer continuing with this year’s 2011 American team.
This time around, their amazing story has been followed everywhere: in-person and by adults old enough to remember victory the first time-around; there are even children dreaming of becoming the next Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, or Hope Solo. And unlike the events of 1999, Americans and worldwide fans now have Facebook and Twitter at their disposal, allowing fans everywhere to follow every minute of every game, while sharing the experience with others.
But soccer mirrors our lives and is unpredictable, at best. After defeating Brazil in a game that displayed the U.S. team’s brilliance, victory was not replicated. For many fans, it was a heart-wrenching loss to Japan, especially with Abby Wambach scoring (2-1) in the last moments and victory nearly in their grasp. However, Japan also displayed why they were also worthy of recognition; coming back to tie and later win on penalty shots.
But it’s not a loss for Americans–not really. As American soccer players, they remained largely the underdogs in the tournament and struggled to gain their place and win recognition. However, they have done so–brilliantly. Although the loss will be a tough one to get over, they could not have lost to a more deserving team who is also worthy of international recognition. For a country largely struggling since the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, their World Cup victory is finally something for Japanese residents to celebrate. Their first title, in the world of sports, following such tragedy.
In interviews with ESPN (later printed in Tim Kawakami’s San Jose Mercury article, “Kawakami: U.S. team graceful in defeat, saying Japan deserves this’ “) the U.S. Women’s team was also quick to offer their support for Japan. Hope Solo, in particular, displayed her integrity and maturity as a sports role model, saying: “As much as I’ve always wanted this, if there’s any team I could give it to them, it would be Japan. They do really deserve this.”
Accepting defeat while also congratulating your opponents for a well-played game on their part. It’s a difficult lesson to accept. But one we can all learn from in the U.S. Women’s Soccer team.