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Did Japan just out-US the US?

July 17, 2011 – 5:33 PM

By Laura Pappano

In case we thought that dig-deeper, push-harder, find-another-gear quality was American-made, we just discovered a made-in-Japan version every bit as awe-inspiring as the one we’ve seen from Team USA throughout this tournament.

It hurts to lose in PK’s, but give the Japanese team it’s due. I know Abby wanted a World Cup (and played like she did).

But today, those young women on a fourth-ranked team that no one would have imagined in the finals, the team with the pink swatch below their necklines, played as if there was no option but to win. Their nation simply had to have a victory. And they delivered.

It’s a story line we Americans understand.

Victories in our country are like fuel. We crave them. In our noisy culture, they are the ticket to relevance. Without the 1999 World Cup win, women’s soccer in this country would simply not be where it is. The interesting news is that this loss shows us that we’ve matured some. This team earned attention and respect — even though they did not prevail.

This tournament showed us a few things:

  1. Women’s World Cup soccer – even hosted by a nation whose team lost early – can command a sell-out crowd and international media attention. (American teams travel well – and not just for men’s sports.)
  2. Team USA captured and delighted America. And that’s a) in a country that treats soccer as an afterthought and b) even when the play was not on our turf. We’ve done a lot of growing since 1999.
  3. Flopping is still a guy’s distraction. Sure, there was lots of flopping talk earlier in the tournament, but the final was straight-up play. Credit to both sides for making it about soccer, not acting.
  4. Women’s soccer around the world is getting better. The number of upsets, close matches, and stress-inducing minutes of soccer reveals a quality of competition that should have every nation putting as much effort into supporting their women’s team as they do their men’s teams. And in some part, the US, with WPS deserves some credit for the excellent play across nations.
  5. Women’s soccer is fun to watch. You don’t have to wait until the next World Cup to see it. Buy tickets to WPS and go support your team. (And, yes, you may be cheering for some of those Japanese players. It’s OK)



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