The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup was supposed to be the USA’s tournament. The No. 1 ranked team in the world was supposed to win it all and bring home the country’s third World Cup trophy. Anything less would be a disappointment for a team that thrives on dealing with the pressure of an entire nation.
Pressure made them, but character defined them. Never has a second place team received so much attention and fanfare than the 2011 US Women’s National Team. They won over the hearts of millions of Americans and have managed to make their way into households around the nation because of their heroic performances throughout the tournament.
Think losing to Japan in the finals after leading on two different occasions was a failure? Think again. Success and failure goes far beyond the pristine green grass of the soccer field and far beyond any trophies that come along with winning a World Cup final.
Success is winning over millions of Americans who never watched a women’s soccer game in their life. Success is making a name for yourself after no one knew who you were a month before. It’s getting thousands to flood the streets of Times Square and scream at the top of their lungs whenever your team scores a goal. Most importantly, success is inspiring people into making them believe that anything in this world is possible even if it may seem impossible.
It is not about soccer. This unbelievable support from Americans wouldn’t be like it is today if USA had beaten Brazil 2-0 in regulation time or if USA had easily qualified for this tournament after trouncing teams, 5-0, each and every game. The struggles that this team has overcome has made them stronger and a team that all of us can relate to.
What made this team successful was how 21 women from all walks of this country embodied an entire American population by never giving up and showing the world what true American spirit is all about.
With their backs against the wall playing a woman down, victim to some horrendous calls by the referees, and while playing against the clock and the gamesmanship of the Brazilians, USA never once gave up. Never once did they keep their heads down. They kept fighting on and persevered, winning in most improbable fashion against one of the world’s best teams.
It didn’t matter what Abby Wambach and the US team would do after this game. They already caught the attention of everyone back home in America and they became the story of the summer. No loss to France in the semifinals or loss to Japan in the finals would ever take away from what these women did in the quarterfinals.
It is easy to look at the Japan game as a disappointment. But the short term can take a seat to the impact that this team has had on the future athletes in this country.
Much like the 1999 USA team inspired players like Alex Morgan and Heather O’Reilly to play at a young age, the 2011 team unquestionably inspired a whole new generation of young women to want to play in a World Cup when they get older. In turn, this new generation of athletes will carry on the tradition left by its predecessors.
Some might still have a sour taste in their mouths after witnessing heartbreak in the championship game, but there is so much to look forward to in the near future. This team is surely not done competing. You can bet they will be a favorite to win the 2012 Olympics in London, which take place in just a year. Young stars have emerged, providing USA with the opportunity to remain a world power for years to come.
Take a look at what this US team has done for the Women’s Professional Soccer league. Fox Soccer Channel recently received thousands of requests to show more WPS games, and it has delivered to fans who can’t get enough of this group of soccer players. The first game played after the final between Alex Morgan’s Western NY Flash and Abby Wambach’s MagicJack sold out with over 13,000 tickets being gobbled up by people who caught World Cup fever.
The league will certainly benefit from the United States’ showing in the World Cup, and it could be the jump start that WPS needed to become what many believed it had the potential of becoming. What makes this league different from MLS is the fact that the best players on our national team play in our domestic league.
So if you want to see Hope Solo, Morgan, Wambach and the rest of the women’s team, WPS is the place to go. All of our heroines are spread out across six different teams from Boca Raton, Florida all the way up to Rochester, New York. The more attention WPS receives, the more it translates to success for the USA’s national team.
Just to leave you with something to think about: the US-Japan game drew 13,458,000 viewers, making it the second-most-watched women’s game in US television history. The final beat out the MLB Home Run Derby and the British Open and broke a record for Tweets sent per second with 7,196. Solo and Morgan have gained more than 100,000 new followers on Twitter after virtually no one knew who they were a month before.
The team arrived to thousands of loud fans in New York City, they have been all over ESPN, Good Morning America, the Today Show, the Rachel Maddow Show and the Letterman Show, and they have been talked about on virtually every channel and radio station.
President Obama sent the team a message via Twitter, Hilary Clinton called the team up before the Japan game, and Senator Chuck Schumer made a speech about Wambach’s goal while on the Senate floor.
It wasn’t only politicians who wished Team USA luck. Actors, actresses, musicians, artists, and celebrities were all a part of the World Cup buzz and enjoyed the show that their team put on for them. The US women made soccer cool, and because of them, soccer is more popular than ever right now.
From almost not qualifying for the World Cup to accomplishing what this team has accomplished is truly remarkable. They took us on a roller coaster ride and gave us so many great moments that we will always remember.
So do you still think the silver medal was a failure? It certainly doesn’t seem that way.