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Archive for Wednesday, July 13, 2011

If U.S. women’s team wins, so will soccer

July 13, 2011

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— It is not a slight to either the history of American soccer or the other great female champions of this country to say that this morning, the U.S. women’s team will attempt to boldly go where no women have gone before.

One can only assume that those captivated by the team’s magical rescue of victory against Brazil on Sunday will continue to cheer this team as it faces France in the World Cup semifinals in Germany.

And, based on Twitter, those cheering these women include a vast range, from Kevin Durant to Tom Hanks to Larry Fitzgerald and even to LeBron James. Yes, The Uncrowned One was just one of many to hail the achievements of a women’s team in a sport that seems to finally be gaining a real foothold in this country.

That’s why I mention the part about “where no women have gone before.” The accomplishments of Chris Evert or the Williams sisters on the tennis court or Hall of Famer (and Dallas’ own, if you will) Nancy Lieberman in basketball are not to be diminished in any way.

But those champions mostly elevated the women’s side of their sports. Tennis had a fairly strong grip in this nation with the likes of Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors at the top of their games and John McEnroe on the way when the Evert-Martina Navratilova rivalry allowed women’s tennis to blossom.

You can make a case that the Williams sisters revived the sport a decade ago as the U.S. was losing its edge in men’s tennis.

It’s hard to say even the finest women’s basketball players have gone beyond their gender to raise interest in the men’s game. As much as the remarkable women’s teams of UConn’s Geno Auriemma have achieved, roundball had been alive and well for decades before the Lady Huskies started rolling.

I think it’s different with soccer and, for whatever reason, this current team. Even though there have been some great women’s soccer moments and championship teams, they either didn’t do much to change the lack of soccer interest here or they just provided baby steps that were harder to detect.

When the ’91 and ’99 U.S. teams won World Cups or when they captured Olympic gold in ’96, those victories made Mia Hamm a household name.

I’m not sure how much the interest level in soccer was advanced by those triumphs. It was probably some, to be sure, but I think it was minimal.

It just feels different now. The U.S. men got their share of notice in the World Cup last year in what was far from a winning cause.

More and more soccer is finding its way onto television. Mainstream sports fans are following the English Premier League at unprecedented levels in this country.

Maybe that has something to do with two lockouts, but really those are relatively recent and temporary developments.

Locally, where nothing short of NBA Finals or World Series are accepted (OK, possibly that’s a temporary feeling as well), soccer is heating up. FC Dallas produced a surprising league MVP last year in David Ferreira.

It just doesn’t seem like an aberration now when you find sports fans talking soccer. Certainly there was substantial buzz generated by Sunday’s penalty kick victory over Brazil.

Not only are the U.S. women favored to at least reach the World Cup final now, but soccer’s timing could not be better. On the day after baseball’s All-Star Game, there is virtually an empty sports slate in this country.

A nation’s fans must have their daily fix. And if anything approaching what this team accomplished Sunday can be repeated against France, then it’s on to the World Cup final Sunday afternoon.

At that time, you would have to anticipate more eyes here being focused on a women’s soccer game than ever before. Given the unlikelihood of seeing an American male atop the British Open leaderboard, soccer might provide the best hope of cheering a U.S. championship this weekend.

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