Editorial: The Women Could Teach The Men A Thing Or Two

In this author's humble opinion, the last truly great Brazil team. The flair and sexiness of their play was orgasmic. Their haircuts and facial hair, not so much.

I’ve watched football (soccer) for almost 30 years. My first real exposure to world football was the 1982 World Cup, the one everyone thought Brazil would win, and I watched with the eyes of an awestruck 6 year old. The beauty and skill on display was magical and I was hooked.

In 86’ in Mexico, I was wowed by Maradona’s incredible and wonderous skill and mortified by his hand of god. As the World Cups came and went and leagues went through their yearly drama, I observed each match I saw with less and less wonderment and with increasing scrutiny and cynicism.

Over the years I’ve witnessed the dominance of Serie A and it’s subsequent impotence, the rise of French international football, and the impacts of Heysel and Hillsborough. I’ve seen the rise and fall of Maradona, the brilliance and madness of Zidane, Man United’s domination of the Premiership, increased theatrics, outrageous transfer fee’s and soccer in the USA… and I’ve seen 3 Women’s World Cups.

Who didn't love the USWNT from '99?

Admittedly, I was fully gripped in 99 and like a lot of people fell in love with the USWNT, but my interest (like a lot of people) waned and I was only a casual observer for the next two cups. Leading up to this cup and writing for TSG, I became more involved with the USWNT as well as the English team’s path to Germany.

The first thing that struck me is that the world has caught up in many ways to the traditional powerhouses of Women’s soccer. England beat and mostly outplayed a strong US team in a friendly. Mexico beat the US and forced the number 1 ranked team in the world to play a 2 game playoff in order to book their ticket to the land of bratwurst and beer. China, quarter-finalists in the past 2 cups and finalists in 99, didn’t even qualify, finishing behind Australian, North Korea (Dear Leader must have been proud and I do wonder how he took credit for it) and Japan.

Making babies cry and milk curdle, Franck Ribery and Carlos Tevez.

Watching most of the games (going to school and working for oneself does have it’s privileges), I’ve noticed that amazing athleticism is not just reserved for the best teams, but is prominent on every team, especially the keepers (Hope Solo is just out of this world). The supreme skill level, the deft touches, the sophisticated tactics and tip top fitness (Brazil aside) is pronounced on every team.

So this is a long winded path to get to my main point (if you know me personally this shouldn’t surprise you) – but I think that we’ve come to the point, where the women and the women’s game can teach the men how to make football beautiful again, and this goes beyond making Carlos Tevez and Franck Ribery wear bags over their heads.

Less handbags, more play.
The most noticeable difference is the general flow of the game. There is end to end action and the ref’s whistle is often silent for prolonged periods of time.

True Grit!

Why is this you ask? Well aside from the Brazil V. USA quarter final, there is no blatant bitching or disrespecting of every call or Oscar worthy theatrics to deceive the referee. Women footballers, don’t get in skirmishes or “throw handbags” like some of their male counterparts.

They respect each other, their opponents, the referee and the game. If a hard challenge is administered, the attacking player gets up, dusts herself off, “sacks up” and gets on with the game, versus squirming around in agony desperately trying to remember which body part to clutch onto, so that their injury is more believable.

The ref’s on their part let the game flow, as they aren’t concerned if every tumble is real or a dive, because no self respecting woman’s player (not named Erika) would feign injury, as they posses more pride in their skill and toughness and believe that’s “not part of the spirit of the game”.

The referee’s also let many tough tackles and fouls go, as they know that the players are not going to bitch and moan, but instead will continue to play.

There is no “me” in team

The team that dances together, wins together.

The overall team camaraderie and pride is also more prominent in the women’s game. Everyone celebrates the goals, the teams huddle and offer support during tough moments, and there is very little petulance directed at teammates and coaches. Are there instances of this? Of course – please step up Birgit Prinz and Marta, but those are rare exceptions.

Yes, men’s teams huddle and celebrate goals (and sometimes very homo-erotically), but you don’t always get the feeling that it’s genuine. Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but the men’s game is often less about team and more about the individual – hell, Ronaldo has more product in his hair then the entire USWNT.

There also seems to be a greater respect for one’s opponents in the women’s game. Maybe it has to do with the fact that each player recognizes that they share a common struggle to gain respect and earn a living playing a sport they love in a male dominated game.

5 times in row women's player of the year, is only just getting the recognition she deserves in her home nation.

Brazil offers very little support to their national team and women’s soccer was still banned in Brazil in the 80’s. This from arguably the greatest footballing nation in the world, when every time their men’s team play, it’s declared a holiday.

In the States, the WSP is struggling, though they have just added two teams to the league. Hopefully, the World Cup will increase support, but don’t count on it.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that they are doing something they truly love, and so do their opponents and after all it’s just a game. That their opponents are people too, who deserve respect and for 90 minutes and in some cases 120, they will battle, but they will do it within the laws and spirit of the game and competition.

Whatever the reason, it’s a pleasure to see the women treat each other, their team mates, opponents and referee’s alike with dignity and respect. It makes the game better, makes it flow smoothly and offers us a chance to see some real skill and athleticism.

US soccer

Rampone - could you please teach the USMNT to defend

Specifically, I believe US soccer can learn from the women.

First, the USMNT should take some ball control lessons from their women counterparts. I’m not talking about dribbling and trying to beat 3 players on the run (but talk to Cristiane from Brazil who could show Jozy a thing or too), but more about trapping the ball (entire US womens team), precise passes (Chaney and Lloyd), smart and gutsy defending (Rampone and Krieger) and not relying on your superhuman keeper to bail you out of every situation (even though Solo could should she want).

Yes, I get there are differences between the men’s and women’s game, namely speed and power, but the gap in skill has very much narrowed, if it is still even existent. Did you seem some of those long range howitzers? Those precise delicate chips over the keepers and the penalties!

Everyone of the 9 penalties shot in the quarterfinal shootout between the US and Brazil were very well taken, accurate, and sometimes thunderous shots (Daiane’s penalty was actually quite good, but was just amazingly saved by Solo). How I would love it if the English mens team (the English women could use a tutorial as well) would sit down with Wambach and Lloyd and ask “Oy…how’d you do that love?”

Ali Krieger..."Will you marry me? No seriously!"

Also, how much would I love to just sit down with Ali Krieger…sigh!

Finally, I think US soccer commentary could learn a thing or two from Julie Foudy. She’s not perfect, but she is streets better then Harkes, Lalas and Dellacamera put together (the thought of a morphed version of those three made me shudder uncontrollably).

Time-keeping aside, she offers very astute and insightful thoughts about the match, the tactics and the overall play. She doesn’t feel the need to overwhelm the viewer with stupid facts or personal stories (though the occasional one she does tell are appropriate to what’s going on) and she’s fair and mostly unbiased. She’s enthusiastic, yet sophisticated and incredibly well spoken.

She’s developed an excellent report with Ian Darke and has clearly learned from him, something Harkes failed at.

In 6 days the women’s World Cup will be over. 6 months ago, after winning the WPS championship, the FC Gold Pride folded due to financial struggles. The Premiership and the rest of the European leagues will commence in just over a month. The Champions League, Euros and 2014 world cup qualifying, as well as the European Championships will all commence within two months to a year. The chances to see women’s soccer will be few and far between.

I hope every mens player is watching the Women’s World Cup and taking notes. I hope they are realizing that the women “have more stones”  then the majority of them, that they have more pride,  love and respect for the beautiful aspects of the game. I hope they understand that football is best played when it flows, without the constant tweeting from the referee. I hope they understand that they can learn a thing or two…

41 responses to this post.

  1. […] Shin Guardian has a list of things the Women’s World Cup should be teaching fans and participants of the men’s […]


  2. Posted by Joe Estrada on 2011/07/12 at 7:20 AM

    Great read……


  3. Posted by Chris on 2011/07/12 at 7:33 AM

    This was awesome. I’m going to go so far as to say that this is the best/most enjoyable article I’ve read on TSG. Props to the writer.


  4. Well done TSG


  5. Posted by Steven on 2011/07/12 at 9:14 AM

    I wasn’t particularly impressed with the technical skill or tactics of the USWNT. From what I’ve seen they suffer some of the same deficiencies that plague the men: Not enough creativity in the final third to overcome a well organized defense and difficulty overcoming high-pressure tactics with resorting to long balls. I think these issues are symptomatic of the player development problems we have here in the United States for both genders. From what I gather, the women rely even more on the college game to develop players for the NT, but the college game allows many more substitutions than the pro game. So it becomes more about aestheticism,fitness, and direct playing style than the kind of passing game that might bring greater international success. The college game and more widely the US Soccer pyramids failure to develop international level players for the MNT is readily apparent. I worry that the same thing is happening to the WNT. I somewhat agree with your other points. There seems to less gamesmanship and more respect for the opposition. The Brazilians were pretty awful in the quarterfinals though.


  6. Posted by Gino on 2011/07/12 at 9:20 AM

    Very good points in a fine article. The only imprivement would have been substituting the photos of Tevez and Ribery with more Krieger pics.


  7. […] The Fan In You « Editorial: The Women Could Teach The Men A Thing Or Two […]


  8. Posted by Matt Mathai on 2011/07/12 at 10:55 AM

    Good article. I agree with you 100% about the attitude and professionalism of the women’s team.

    That said, I disagree completely about two things. First, you must have seen some matches that I didn’t see because the ball handling in the handful of matches I watched was generally pretty bad. IMO, it’s the biggest weakness in the women’s game. I saw tons of over- and under-hit passes, both long and short. I can understand how physical strength might affect the length and direction of long passes, but there were lots of short (10-yard) passes that were slammed at the receiving player. Then there’s the issue of choosing the wrong pass WAY too often. There was a lot of passing to players under pressure when there were better options available.

    Still, it’s far better than it was in ’99, which was the last time I watched a women’s match, so that’s a sign of progress and very good news.

    The second point of disagreement is Julie Foudy. Her voice is like nails on a blackboard to me. I also don’t think she adds much of anything to a broadcast, but maybe that’s because I can’t get past that tone in her voice. To tell the truth, you’re the first person I’ve heard who likes her.


    • Posted by sfshwebb on 2011/07/12 at 11:03 AM

      Matt – I feel the same way about the US male commentators. I think Foudy flows a lot better then the others and works in well with Darke or whomever she is working with. Harkes for example is like a bull in a china shop and blabbers endless about nothing in particular. I think it stems from baseball and football announcing where the commentators have to fill up every bit of silence with some fact or description. The Gold Cup commentating was just plain awful. Obviously Darke is the main announcer but Foudy compliments him well. I also think she knows more about the game historically and tactically more then her male counterparts.


      • Posted by Matt Mathai on 2011/07/12 at 1:41 PM

        I agree with you on Harkes. He’s too strong for his (supposedly supporting) role and very few announcers know how to shut up and let the action speak for itself.

        Of all the male announcers, I think I like Darke, Tyler, Dellacamera, Dunseth, and Sullivan the most.

        Christian Miles should go take a nap in a bonfire.


        • mostly for me the biggest frustration is DARKE vs JPD on play by play. i dont care as much whos doing color, though i do like foudy and also kyle martino, i think(doesnt he color some mls on espn?).
          im not going to sit here and say JPD is bad, because thats just a subjective view point, but darke can move you and when something great happens it feels great with the call. with JPD and the first two goals in the GC final, he didnt really help me out at all. and then i saw replays and i was like i know this moment is huge, but i dont feel it. i cant really explain it.

          this is bad cause darke is likely OWNED by ESPN which means he’ll never do FSC

          darkes two best moments for me (that i know of) are:
          the algeria goal: “oooh can you believe it” (version 1) in the mens WC
          and the de campo goal from mexico in the WWC “oh she’s done it”

          maybe “ooooh can you believe it” should become a slogan for USsoccer
          cause if and when it happens, it will more than likely still be considered a miracle at that time


          • Posted by Matt Mathai on 2011/07/12 at 3:01 PM

            Yup, forgot Martino. He’s just starting but I like him. I think he’s going to be very good.

            I also really like Ramirez and Bracamonte. They’re engaged and funny, and they convey the excitement of the match incredibly well. They take very contagious joy in their job. I have only a passing grip of Spanish, but I’ll watch their broadcast over an English-language one because of how they pull me in.


            • Posted by sfshwebb on 2011/07/12 at 4:07 PM

              Do you think Martino will get a chance to do some of the bigger games?

            • Posted by Matt Mathai on 2011/07/12 at 4:18 PM

              I think he will, as soon as he gets a bit more seasoning.

            • Posted by Dave on 2011/07/12 at 8:01 PM

              Announcers are very much a personal taste. Jesús Bracamonte got my attention with some very objective comments after US beat Portugal in 2002, and also with his ability to recognize that players are human beings. While Pablo Ramírez rambles a bit too much, he and Bracamontes have good rapport and enjoy the game.
              I also like Jorge Pérez Navarro; the lady doing the color with him for the Women’s WC provides quite a bit of info about the Women’s game(e.g. the high number of youth players in Norway and the low number of youth players in Brazil) but needs to make her points quicker. Not that impressed with other Spanish commentators I’ve heard.
              On the English side, after Derek Rae there really isn’t anyone else I think is excellent. I don’t enjoy Ian Darke’s calls of the games, don’t feel he is particularly objective, roots a little too much for the US as if he thinks that’s what it takes to become popular here.
              As far as objectivity, Univisión seems to work on that, with some failures here and there(they definitely spoke to Chilavert and Húgo Sánchez about not being so obvious about rooting for “their” teams).
              Another pet peeve of mine, not even trying to learn how to pronounce players’ names, is especially bad among Spanish language broadcasters and Englishmen. I can see not getting your tongue around a foreign name, but at least try(Derek Rae is very good about this, Pérez-Navarro tries but sometimes fails–you don’t want to hear him pronounce Abigail Wambach…).

    • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/12 at 12:17 PM

      I have to say, I don’t care for Julie Foudy, but I think I’d pick her over Harkes and Lalas. I highly enjoyed Pablo Ramirez and Hector Bracamonte for the Gold Cup… but obviously it’s probably a 50/50 decision if you don’t speak spanish. LOL.
      I watched Sweden v Australia (which wasn’t a great match… lots of standing around (which was inexplicable on Australia’s part) and heard Kate Markgraf adding the “color commenting” or whatever it’s called… never heard her before, but I thought she was a minor revelation. She put forward a lot of info about players on both sides that I found very insightful.


      • Posted by Jared on 2011/07/12 at 12:38 PM

        Yeah, I’ve seen Markgraf call a couple of games now and though she was great. Foudy reverts back too often to personal pronouns when referring to the US team. You’re not a part of that team Julie. Please try to be professional.

        Still would take Foudy over Harkes though. He’s an embarassment to broadcasting and never should have been given the opportunity after what he did in the months leading up to the World Cup. He should’ve been blackballed by US Soccer/ESPN/whoever else is involved with soccer in this country.


    • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/12 at 12:36 PM

      Japan and France, obviously Brazil, and up until they faced Japan, Germany, were really fun to watch technically. I’m less than impressed, unfortunately, by a lot of the touches I saw our women taking. I’m still stymied how both our women’s and men’s never met a passing triangle they liked.


      • Posted by Dave on 2011/07/12 at 8:16 PM

        I like to watch Brazil, but they don’t necessarily play well as a team. Cristiane and Rosana often try to do too much individually, in the US game I thought Marta worked on bringing others into the game, but too often the off ball movement or return pass was lacking. They also seemed to have a big gap from midfield to the forwards.
        Japan’s game against Germany was fun to watch, but it seemed after they calmly passed the ball out of the back the Japanese couldn’t keep it once they got past midfield.
        Also, for some of the teams there seems to be a big gap in skill level from the best to the average players. And still a gap, but a closing one, in both development support and skill, from the best to the worst teams.


        • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/12 at 10:29 PM

          The issues you cite are equally present in the men’s tournament, no? It’s part of the atmosphere of the competition to see how a team’s chemistry and style match up against others.


        • Posted by Martin on 2011/07/15 at 4:28 PM


          In their defense, Brazil’s team is not well funded or supported. So they have little if any practice time.

          It’s an exaggeration to say they are a pickup team but not that much of one.


    • Posted by Matt B on 2011/07/13 at 3:56 PM

      For me, the easiest way to tell the gap in quality between Foudy and Harkes is to watch the Wambach goal and Landon’s goal vs. Algeria back to back. Harkes can’t even speak a coherent sentence before he trails off and Darke has to pick up the call. Foudy actually gives somewhat intelligent commentary on the play. I can honestly say I’d rather have her calling men’s games than Harkes.


      • Posted by Martin on 2011/07/15 at 5:29 PM

        As announcers Harkes and Foudy are the same animal separated by gender stereotypes.

        They are both ex-national team players who can barely tolerate it when (and they let you know this ) the players on the field don’t see and do things they way they believe they would have done them.

        Foudy comes across as pushy and annoying. Harkes comes across as an arrogant jerk. Therefore, for both of them the telecast is really all about them. Foudy is just a lot less obnoxious about it.

        If push came to shove I’d choose Foudy, who appears to be getting better. Harkes is probably incorrigible. It could be worse. we could have Lalas.


  9. Posted by Alex Song on 2011/07/12 at 7:58 PM

    Men are different animals. More violent. More aggressive.

    There are also higher stakes in the male game, since a star player can make a fortune. In the female game, there’s less incentive to be selfish because Nike and Real Madrid aren’t going to pay you a fortune no matter how good you are.

    As for the quality of play, any nation’s men’s team would demolish its women’s team. The reason why, relative to the competition, USWNT is good and USMNT is not has everything to do with the player pool. All of the best athletes in the men’s player pool are playing cornerback, running back, wide receiver, and point guard. Athletically, the guys in MLS aren’t even on par with scholarship Pac-10 players in basketball and football, for the most part.

    Women’s soccer doesn’t lose athletes to football since women don’t play that sport.


    • Posted by kaya on 2011/07/12 at 10:29 PM

      Re: player pool size, I still think the vastly larger size of the player pool for professional men’s sports in general negates the relative advantage of soccer within women’s sports. The US and Scandinavian women had an advantage because they had any women who played, period.
      The reason the US women seem to be generally considered the 3rd best technically/ball handlers remaining in the tournament is maybe where we could start looking for reasons our men’s team doesn’t standout.


    • Posted by Anatoly M on 2011/07/13 at 5:25 AM

      “All of the best athletes in the men’s player pool are playing cornerback, running back, wide receiver, and point guard.”

      That’s probably true, and as a side note – it’s one of the reasons that soccer fans are optimistic that the game’s development in the US might bring these superb athletes into soccer (maybe, eventually)

      BUT, and it’s a big BUT. Look at the list of the best players in the world. 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or is especially telling: Lionel Messi – 1.69 m (5 ft 6 1⁄2 in), Andrés Iniesta – 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in), Xavi – 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in). After I wrote this, I had to look it up: Pele – 1.73 m (5 ft 8 in), Maradona – 1.65 m (5 ft 5 in), Platini – 1.78 m (5 ft 10 in). What a list of giant shrimps! Yes, of course, there are/were bigger soccer players, a bit more in the mold of NFL speedsters: Zidane – 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in), Cristiano Ronaldo – 1.86 m (6 ft 1 in). All being equal a more athletic player will have a muscle advantage (central defenders tend to be bigger lately, and there are plenty of taller stronger players lately as well). BUT – The beauty of this game is that it’s never all equal. The only physical attribute that is absolutely must for a footballer is endurance. Everything else is optional, and the shrimps above learned how to overcompensate with a vengeance.


      • Posted by Alex Song on 2011/07/13 at 12:19 PM

        Just because you’re short doesn’t mean you aren’t a ridiculous athlete. Most NFL running backs are 5’9″-5’11”. Having that low center of gravity helps them cut on a dime.

        It would be really interesting if you could take a player like Darren Sproles, Ray Rice, Jahvid Best, LaDainian Tomlinson, or Maurice Drew and do a “do-over” of their life, forcing them to focus on soccer instead of football. You might get a Messi/Aguero, or at least a Shaun Wright-Phillips.

        But I agree that overwhelming athleticism isn’t necessarily the #1 factor in soccer, especially in the central midfield. From what I’ve seen, central midfielders are more like quarterbacks. Vision and passing skills are more important to a QB’s success than sheer speed. It seems to be the same for the CM/CAM. Fabregas, Ozil, and Iniesta aren’t remarkable physical specimens, but they can sure pick out a pass.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/07/13 at 7:00 AM

      You make the assumption that the crossover from one sport to another is seamless if you’re athletic. And I feel it is this thinking that is holding the USA back from developing, because you put too much emphasis on hard factors such as physicality and power, rather than soft factors such as techique and finesse.


      • Posted by Alex Song on 2011/07/13 at 12:13 PM

        Oh, I understand that soccer is a skill game first and foremost, but a freak athlete with elite skills will always beat a modest athlete with elite skills. Hence why the world class players like Henry, Messi, Drogba, and Carlos combine both qualities.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/07/13 at 2:00 PM

          How many ‘modest’ athletes make it to the very top? Just because you’re jacked doesn’t mean that you’re more of an athlete. People’s perceptions are a little misguided IMO.


        • Posted by Martin on 2011/07/15 at 5:20 PM


          “Oh, I understand that soccer is a skill game first and foremost, but a freak athlete with elite skills will always beat a modest athlete with elite skills”

          And how often does that happen?

          It’s curious how everyone always forgets that soccer is a team sport and that you can rarely if ever separate the individual from the team dynamic.

          C. Ronaldo and Messi are probably equally skilled and equally “athletic” (though Ronaldo is probably more powerful).
          However, Messi has a superior team around him and it’s not as if the mark each other when Real and Barca go head to head.

          When Messi plays for Argentina he is the same player but in a different and some would say, much reduced circumstance.

          This explains why good to great club players don’t always work out for their national teams.

          Or look at it another way. The last 40 years the men’s World Cup has been won by Spain, Italy (twice), Brazil (three times), France, Germany (twice) and Argentina (twice).

          Are those guys Olympic powers as one might expect from a nation skilled in athletics?

          Brazil 91 total medals, Argentina 66 total medals, Italy 627 total medals, Germany 1099 total medals,

          USA? 2549 total medals.


  10. Posted by Dougs on 2011/07/12 at 8:17 PM

    Just had to tell you that I thought this was an excellent article — very valid points and very well stated. I have a historic bias against Foudy from her commentating in previous tournaments but I think if I am being fair, I have to agree that she has been a nice compliment to Darke — its clear that they like and respect each other and don’t babble on about personal stories during the game. To the degree Foudy has an ego, she doesn’t bring it to the booth which is something the great majority of US male commentators could learn from.


  11. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/07/13 at 7:26 AM

    I think most people need to keep an open mind and not compare women’s football to the men’s game. There are obvious differences between the two. For example, for Wambach’s equalising goal against Brazil, I was initially shaking my head at the Brazilian keeper for not collecting that cross, after all it was a bread and butter delivery and nothing special – for someone who is 6 feet. Sometimes you need to remember this, if like me, you predominantly watch the men’s game.

    And to the somewhat negative comments re. general play, that is the same argument for people who would rather watch European football vs. MLS…


  12. Posted by Dan DeCesare on 2011/07/13 at 7:56 AM

    A very poignant article. During this year’s Women’s World Cup, I have found myself thinking about how much certain players are beginning to adapt some of the habits and mannerisms of the mens futbol. In the case of Brazil, I believe having a male as a coach has definitely affected the way the Brazilian women play. Let’s hope that the best qualities of the women’s game will always be retained; thoughtful passing & field vision, good sportsmanship, a joyful spirit, high energy and teamwork.


  13. DEAD ON! Thanks for sharing Judy.


  14. Posted by EFG on 2011/07/13 at 8:50 PM

    It turns out a good friend of mine went to high school with a certain Ms. Krieger. Just sayin’.


  15. […] The Shin Guardian has a thing or two the men’s game could learn from the women’s game. […]


  16. Posted by Melanie Killingsworth on 2011/07/16 at 4:40 PM

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