This evening marks the end of another miraculous month of ladies’ soccer. For the third major tournament in a row, the United States’ Women’s National Team will face off against Japan’s National Team. In the 2011 World Cup finals, Japan edged out the U.S. 5-4 in penalty kicks. The following year, the USWNT got a glimpse at redemption when they beat Japan by a score of 2-1 in the final during the 2012 Olympics.
Now it is 2015 and another World Cup tournament has come and almost gone. Game after game, more than five hundred women have run, kicked, sweated, dove, and fought to make their way to the finals. They left their blood, sweat, and tears on six different fields across Canada. Forty-six players remain. Twenty-three U.S. women and twenty-three Japanese women will face off yet again, but only one team will earn the title of World Cup champions.
Okay, so why am I going on about the World Cup? Well if you have been following me or Aubrey on Twitter in the last month, you know this is nothing new. In fact, we have live-tweeted quite a few of the major soccer tournaments over the past few years that we have known each other. Sadly, no one offered to fly us to Vancouver for the final match of the Women’s World Cup this year, so we’ll have to settle for live-tweeting from our respective couches in New York and New Hampshire.
Shortly after my family moved from California to New York, our parents asked me and my sister which sports we would like to take up. We took dance lessons and did gymnastics when we lived in California. For no exact reason I can recall, I said I wanted to play soccer. And so began eight years with the best sport ever. I played one year in my town’s recreational league before joining a travel soccer team (and then another, and then another). When I wasn’t in school, I was playing soccer. My parents drove me from one state to another for evening practices and weekend games and tournaments. They paid for socks, shin guards, outdoor cleats, goalkeeper gloves and jerseys, athletic clothes, and camps. I surely saved them some good money for managing to get by with only one pair of indoor cleats during my soccer career though–and to this day, they still fit! Of course, in return, I tortured them with my choice to get off the field and into the goal.
I played on a handful of New York and New Jersey travel teams. We often played locally or in Pennsylvania or Connecticut, but we also played as far as Virginia, Florida, and Texas. My only “major” injuries in those years included a sprained and twisted ring finger (on two separate occasions), a kick to the eye with a striker’s neon yellow cleat, and a few broken hearts from those disappointing losses. We played in extreme cold and horrible heat, in sunshine and in rain, in forty-five mile per hour winds that kept planes grounded. There were bruises, scratches, turf burns, far too many cleat scratches (of my own fault), and some of the weirdest tan lines from shin guards and goalie gloves. And yet every second I put into this game was a good one. Every minute was a lesson to learn or a chance for my own personal growth. Each early morning and late night, each bottle of a sports drink and slice of an orange, each team huddle was important.
I started playing when I was in elementary school and quickly fell in love with the sport. I stopped playing in high school when I had fallen out of love. I hoped that by quitting then, I would be able to love soccer again in the future. I had given so much to the sport that I did not want to end up hating it. And, thankfully, I came to a place where I could love the game again.
Prior to and at the beginning of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, I had a lot of issues in regards to the games being played on turf. The men’s tournament had been played on grass, so why couldn’t the women’s? I have sustained my fair share of “turf burn” over the years, and not to mention that the temperature on turf is way higher than on regular grass. But I still looked forward to watching the tournament
While I am still quite unhappy with the field conditions, I am incredibly impressed with how well these women played soccer over the past month. The 2015 World Cup has become more than a battle to play on grass. From Canada’s opening match win to England’s devastating own-goal loss in the semifinals. From the United States’ unrelenting defense to France’s powerful offense. These strong, brilliant women have forged new paths. They work hard and fight even harder. They have created legacies for themselves and their teams and their countries. They fight their battles on and off the field, and they do it wonderfully.
I watched legends like Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Brandi Chastain, and Joy Fawcett lead the world of women’s soccer when I was growing up. Some of those women, like Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx, and Abby Wambach are still running their hearts out today. Some of them have been playing for decades and others are much newer to the pitch, but all of them have followed their passions and put it all out on the field. No matter what happens tonight, this is a team to be proud of.
As the USWNT has said many times, it takes more than one player to win. It takes the whole team–all twenty-three women (plus their coaches and trainers, their families, and everyone who helped them get to where they are). I look forward to seeing these women put it all out on the line one more time.
Also, you should follow me and Aubrey on Twitter by 7p.m. (EST) tonight (and forever) because we are sassy and hilarious and a total hoot. And we’ll be live-tweeting the game tonight. Go USA!
If only every month could have a world soccer tournament…