Maura Gladys with Part I of II on the USWNT
You can recognize it by the tone of the screams as players break from the team huddle and race to a spot on the field.
At an NFL game, or even a USMNT game, the roar of the crowd would be four octaves lower. But at a U.S. women’s national team game, the sound of the crowd doesn’t so much start at a rumble then rise to a roar as it builds to a five-alarm shriek that pierces the night sky. It’s beautiful.
Last Tuesday, I took in my first U.S. women’s national team match since 1999 when I was 9 years old and saw Mia Hamm and the U.S. women beat Denmark 3-0 in the opening match of the now-legendary Women’s World Cup. I have been writing about the team for two years, following the team for much longer. But thanks to an opportunity to produce some videos with KICTV, I was in Hartford, Connecticut for the U.S. Women’s friendly versus Germany.
The game was part of the USWNT’s ten-game victory tour around the U.S., to celebrate the United States’ gold medal victory in London and to keep the team in the public eye, in lieu of a domestic league.
Throughout the entire night, I couldn’t help thinking, over and over, everything is important, but nothing matters right now.
From individual performance on the field, in order to impress a new, yet-to-be-named coach (at the time), to off-the-field momentum that is being built to drum up support for a new league. It’s important. It means things for the immediate future of U.S. Soccer. But this will be the third try for a women’s league in the U.S. And it’s a very long two and a half years until the 2015 Women’s World Cup. You can only muster so much optimism so many times…
Members of the Hartford chapter of the American Outlaws Supporters Group gather on the outskirts of a parking lot of Rentschler Field about an hour before kickoff. While the group often turns out in droves for men’s games around the country, it’s presence isn’t as big at women’s games. But that’s going to change, according to one of the chapter leaders.
“The women haven’t been getting as much support as the men. But we want to show that they deserve it, and it’s going to start right here in Connecticut,” she tells me as the group sings a song dedicated to Hope Solo to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine” and a slightly inebriated man dressed as George Washington walks by.
“We’ve got Hope Solo
And you’ve got no goals
She’s make our hearts sing, just wait and see….”
And I think, ‘This is important. This is a good start. Soon we’ll have this at every game, and with even more supporters.’ But are we looking for a start? Or a ride that’s already in progress?
“…She’ll even dive right and punch from full flight
Hope Solo save a PK for me.”
It’s 7:30 pm and Hartford is soaked. The temperature has dropped to a point where a slight puff of fog escapes from each talking mouth. It’s cold, it’s wet. It’s just miserable. But then there’s that noise. That piercing shriek that only occurs when thousands and thousands of girls are in the presence of their heroes.
Despite the weather, a crowd of more than 18,000 came out that night, on a Tuesday no less, to see the game.
“I thought the crowd was really great,” said Alex Morgan after the game. “When we came out to warm up, I was a little nervous for the crowd because I wouldn’t want to be sitting in the rain for an hour-and-a-half, but they showed up huge and they were loud and on their feet the whole time. I really have to give them credit.”
The crowd stayed strong for most of the game, which was world-class. Goals from Wambach and Heath, and glimpse of the future for Germany, with a brace from Dzenifer Marozsan. Great saves from Solo, exciting play, despite the soggy conditions. Just great soccer.
And it all adds up to create this perfect equation of fans and athleticism and love. And it’s enough to make you think that maybe if we can get 18,000 people to sit in the pouring rain and watch a great game of soccer, then maybe there’s a future for women’s soccer in this country after all. A future that stretches beyond just every 3 or 4 years, or one epic game every tournament, to a domestic league, and consistent fan base, and a healthy infrastructure. And this optimism builds every single time. Every successful friendly, every bright moment, snatched up and clutched, hoping that we can ride that moment all the way to a self-sustaining future.
But by 11pm, the parking lot has emptied out, and the stadium is quiet.
And I think, it was important but did it matter?
Three days later, an announcement comes that four U.S. women have been nominated for the Ballon d’Or, throwing the USWNT back into twitter feeds for another day or two. Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe have all received the nod, with Wambach and Morgan the frontrunners. And I do it again. ‘This is great. It’s important. Wambach will probably be the first American woman to win the award since Mia Hamm in 2002.’ But, then it’s gone from the news feeds for another few days or weeks, until the next announcement comes–the new coach–and then the next friendlies against Ireland in late November and early December. Because as magical as each moment is, as important as each step forward is, you can’t help but feel that it’s going to take more than that chorus of shrieks to propel the game to the next level here.