The recaps will say the United States women’s national team dismantled the Colombian national team 3-0 at Talen Energy Stadium, but something more than that happened.
I talked to a ticket agent who said the game sold out in two days. The stadium seats 18,500.
I’m in my middle thirties. I’ve been a sports fan my whole life. I have only been to two games in which I was absolutely certain of the outcome before it started: Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Conference quarters when the Flyers beat the Sabres 5-2 in Philly, and this match. The US women are a juggernaut, the reigning World Cup champs with the FIFA World Player of the Year in Carli Lloyd on their team and a host of other weapons. They are 11-0 in 2016; they have outscored their opposition 42-1. There was never a doubt in my mind that the US Women would win. That’s not what surprised me.
What surprised me (and looking back it shouldn’t have) was the absolute horde of school-aged girls in USWNT gear. It struck me; this wasn’t a friendly for many of them. This was a rock concert. Here were their heroes doing their thing. They were growing up dreaming about being on this team. As we do so often now, I found myself subconsciously attempting to draw parallels to the men’s team, but couldn’t. Hordes of school-aged boys don’t follow the USMNT around like this. But why not?
For whatever reason, the opportunities in sport that women get in the United States are not the same as those men get. This is a topic of much discussion right now (is it capitalism? is it sexism?) which we won’t dive into that much in this space, but what is clear is that this is true. Of the major domestic sports with fixed teams, men can go pro in baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer. Women can go pro in soccer and basketball and that’s it. And so for most of these girls, soccer is the only option to follow their dream to the highest level; to get paid while doing it and possibly represent their country. Mix in the fact the USWNT is so good (as opposed to the men’s team, who can be best described as “maddening”) and there’s every incentive to follow that dream to its conclusion, whatever it may be. Recruitment and results aren’t enough though; special talent has to come through the system, and that doesn’t always happen, but it has this time. This team is special.
All of this adds up to one of the most dominant teams in any sport of our time, both currently and historically. No women’s team has won the World Cup more times. In Rio at the Olympics, they’ll be gunning for their fourth straight gold in soccer. The only way they don’t win it is if they don’t show up. And yet, calling them dominant or special isn’t the highest compliment I can pay them.
The highest compliment I can pay them is my 6-year-old son sat through the entire game. This was hardly his first rodeo; he’s been to at least four or five Union matches there, even big ones (like last year’s Open Cup Final), but every time, we end up bailing during a half to get food, go to the bathroom, you know, things little kids do at events. Not this time; he sat through 45 minutes, we went down at half and were back before the second half, and he sat through that half too. He didn’t explain why and I didn’t ask; I like to think he knew this team was special and he didn’t want to miss a thing, and you know what? I didn’t either.
Dominance is fleeting. The world is catching up. But during a spring day in a soccer-specific, Bermuda-grass-surfaced palace in Chester, PA, one of the greatest soccer teams in the world played and fueled the hopes and dreams of the upcoming generation, and it was something to behold.