It takes some getting used to for die-hard US soccer fans: For the first time since the Women’s World Championship was established, the US team hasn’t been in the Final Four. The elimination against Sweden in the Round of 16 resulted in a week filled with self-reflection, leading to the difficult realization that the rest of the world had finally met the American soccer players.
It was about the narrow millimeter between the ball and the goal line for Sweden’s Lena Hurtig’s decisive penalty, which was saved by goalkeeper Alyssa Neher, but not nearly enough. The Americans played their best match of the tournament against Sweden, but the team disappointed earlier against the Netherlands (1-1) and especially Portugal (0-0).
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Described by Quinn van der Velden De Volkskrant About Sports in the United States. Lives in New York.
“We didn’t lose by a millimeter, we lost by a mile,” former international Tobin Heath concluded on her podcast. The game faltered particularly offensively: The American woman hadn’t scored in her last 248 World Cup minutes.
What now? The question was asked immediately after the final whistle. The monopoly of American women’s soccer, which claimed its fifth World Cup title, and third in a row, is already showing cracks, including a bronze medal at the Tokyo Games. In Melbourne it collapsed.
According to some, coach Vlatko Andonovski was due to leave. Others looked further and saw structural problems in American football education: the high cost of the sport, which excludes talent from less fortunate families, and the lack of a clear hierarchy among professional clubs.
In educating American children, too much emphasis will be placed on winning, as it seemed, in analytics, and too little on creativity and development. Now that other countries are taking women’s football seriously, athletic ability and a good dose of commitment are no longer enough.
On the other hand, there was optimism. For a team in transition, America wasn’t doing too bad. Veterans like Alex Morgan (34) and retired Megan Rapinoe (38) were on their last legs in Australia, but there were bright spots like wingers Sophia Smith (23) and Trinity Rodman (21) and defender Naomi Girma (23). The lead over the competition may have vanished, but the talent pool in the United States is large enough to remain a title contender.
The end of the US world title run made undefeated Crystal Dunn proud. “We have always fought for the global development of the sport,” said the left-back. “This is what you see now.”
In good hands
The old generation trusted a new generation in Melbourne. “The game is evolving, but I’m still hopeful about the future of this team,” Morgan said. And according to Rapinoe, who played her last international match against Sweden and will stop playing soccer after the US season, the national team is in good hands. “And always will be.”
The fact that Rapinoe, of all people, hit a penalty against Sweden so high, led to a portion of the American crowd gloating. The outspoken and self-assured Rapinoe is often hated by many right-wing citizens as the boss of a team that fought outside the lines against unequal pay, racism, homophobia and transphobia.
Conservative commentators and politicians described the ideals of Rapinoe and her teammates as “awakened”, and some were elated by the defeat to Sweden. Former President Donald Trump, among others, with whom Rapinoe has sparred publicly in the past, held off his nationalist for a while to celebrate Team USA’s elimination.
in the blind spot
And while the soccer players were harassed by commentators on the right-wing news channel Fox News, little brother Fox Sports, the World Cup broadcaster, got into trouble for exclusion. Interest in the USA had already waned due to a mediocre group stage (the game against Sweden drew 2.5 million viewers, compared to an average of 4.3 million for the previous three matches), but without the defending champions, the World Cup would disappear from the American audience and perhaps be in a blind spot.
Matches between other nations drew 37 percent fewer viewers this time than four years ago when the tournament was held in France. The time difference doesn’t help: on the east coast of the US, fans had to set their alarms at 05:00 to watch the Round of 16 against Sweden, at other parties even earlier.
To catch the audience’s attention, Fox once again showed the highlights of the previous World Cup around the quarter-finals, when Morgan, Rapinoe and their teammates were still on their feet. Talk about the end of an era. It seems unlikely that the new one will be equally successful.
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