SOCCER: U.S. women’s team inspires confidence at home


Here’s why we cared about what happened on a patch of German
grass Wednesday.
By David J. Neal – McClatchy Newspapers

Here’s why we cared about what happened on a patch of German grass Wednesday.

Days after our annual swaggering celebration on the Fourth of July, we’re back to wondering what “U.S.” means anymore. Not so much the ethnic change, bothersome as that is for some. Assimilation happens. So, the Lavi kid plays football, the Fernandez kid plays hockey and they live in a Midwestern suburb on either side of Smith and Jones, who just wish all the kids would turn down the hip-hop.

But we can’t seem to stop wobbling. We don’t make much anymore, so we’re not sure what “Buy American!” means. We wrench a squeaky cheer out of every barely positive economic indicator as every poll reflects our true pessimism. Our games provide no diversion. The NFL lockout continues. The NBA lockout sides look as intractable as the Democrats and Republicans posturing in Washington with a debt deadline looming. Just as they can agree only that the president is wrong, the only thing we can agree on about our public education system is that it’s broke and broken.

But who do we want to be? We know that when we see it. That’s why we watched, texted, refreshed and Tweeted for two hours Wednesday afternoon as the U.S. women’s soccer team again did at the World Cup what we would like to do as a nation: recover, endure, prosper.

Lucky to be up on a marvelously skilled French side 1-0 at half, the U.S. women reached the second half drained. France tied the score. The United States clearly wasn’t replenished from Sunday’s miracle over Brazil and malodorous officiating. Weary prey.

“We lost our legs. But we picked up our heart,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said on ESPN after the game.

Sundhage inserted Megan Rapinoe at midfield and moved Abby Wambach back to midfield. Wambach, again owning the air like Eddie Rickenbacker once did, headed home the first of two second-half goals that took out the French.

But it’s the heart part that made Wednesday the perfect follow-up to Sunday.

The U.S. women’s soccer team found a way. While we as a nation and as individuals search for a way to move forward out of so much muck, the team did so successfully. Enervated by recent events, they didn’t give in to the tangible feel that they were no longer surfing the game’s waves so much as trying to avoid being drowned. We want to believe we’ll do the same. We want to believe it’s still what Americans do.

Pluck and this country didn’t get married at the first Rocky movie. Pluck is in our foundation. Our Revolutionary War matched a rag-tag bunch against the No. 1-ranked nation’s army. The outgunned spinoffs won on guts and brains.

We’re not giant fans of intellect. Call it “ingenuity,” and we’re on the bandwagon. From the light bulb to the rope-a-dope, that’s America, we smile. Now, we look for the next culture-curving better mousetrap, not entirely sure it will come from us or that we will be able to perfect it. Back in 1979, we called it a “crisis of confidence.”

That’s the era into which blew the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, The Miracle on Ice bunch. We love remembering how a bunch of U.S. college kids knocked off the mighty Soviet Union, the best team in the world.

Comparisons of that to 2011 U.S. women’s soccer aren’t fair to the women. It’s not the Olympics. There’s no two-week buildup to the big game (which, in 1980, was a medal-round game, not a championship game). We were considered long shots to even medal going into the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament while the U.S. women were ranked as contenders for the World Cup. And unless Japan changes its politics in the next three days, the opponent Sunday won’t be our current Big Bad as was the case when the United States faced the Soviet Union.

But the setup is similar. Through general bleakness comes a bunch of athletes with too much gumption to stay down and making us point to them with, “Yeah, that’s America the beautiful.”

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