It may not be on a par with Caitlyn Jenner, but I'm going through a womanly transition of my own. Up until last Monday, I had only ever watched 2 or 3 women's soccer games in their entirety, compared to the hundreds of men's games I've watched, discussed and written about. But we are all evolving and transforming (some more than others), so with the confluence of the Women's World Cup and my daughter being almost 9 and very excited about soccer (she has played since she was 4 and just finished her first competitive season of Club soccer with Fort Lauderdale Select), I have now watched 2 women’s games in the last week and parts of several others. And, I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed getting in touch with my feminine side of soccer.
Right away, I was surprised at how fast the speed of play was. It’s not as fast as a men’s game, nor would I expect it to be, but it was, indeed, faster than I remember. I was also a little surprised with the high level of skill, perhaps showing a bit of chauvinism there since there’s no reason a woman can’t be as skilled as a man if she were to practice the same amount. But before I’m pilloried for sexism, or worse, let me go on to say that I found myself so drawn into the games that I forgot it was “women’s” soccer and enjoyed it as just “soccer.” Quite frankly, in my mind, that’s the highest compliment I can give.
There were also some observations I was very pleased to make. For example, I didn’t see nearly as much diving as the men do. Nor did I see injury faking. When they were fouled they just got on with it. Of course, I do know that women are, indeed, capable of such chicanery – remember the Brazilian Erika in 2011? So, perhaps my sample size is still too small to draw any conclusions about diving or faking, but I was pleased with what I witnessed. Although, it must be said, Americans generally don’t engage in the dark arts nearly as much as other countries (I say proudly) so it stands to reason that the games I’ve watched, each involving Team USA, would contain fewer examples of such antics.
Also with respect to on-pitch behavior, it was almost surreal to me how placid the women players were after being fouled. There was none of the “how dare you?” or “I’m going to kick your ass for that.” Rather, as I said, they pretty much just got up and got on with it. As a former player who played a bit physically and wasn’t afraid to let someone know if I was unhappy with their reciprocal efforts, I’m not exactly sure how to feel about that. But, as a current, aged player who only fouls completely by accident and, even then, is overcome by remorse and spouts apologies, I do see the benefits.
The biggest difference I noticed with respect to the actual flow of the games was how much space there seemed to be for players out wide and how much time the player with the ball seemed to have before being closed down. Logically, perhaps both are due to the speed of the players themselves as they aren’t able to close down an attacker as quickly or cover as much ground as quickly. What that does, though, is make it all seem (to me) a little more thoughtful rather than nearly instinctive. I usually see in advance how the play is going to develop and rarely find myself surprised by a choice made by the player with the ball. It’s certainly not worse, it’s just different. It’s kind of like watching a good movie you’ve already seen before. And what I am coming to appreciate is that it’s just a different flavor of soccer. A little more vanilla but very tasty.
I can see myself growing into women’s international soccer as my daughter grows up. I stress international because I’m not sure I’ll every watch women’s club soccer. And before the stocks are measured for me please note that I don’t even watch MLS because there are only so many hours I can devote to my fandom and Liverpool plays a lot of games. But as much as I enjoyed the last couple of games, there was something else missing: the history and the familiarity. There have only been 6 women’s World Cups, dating back to 1991. By way of comparison, there have been 20 men’s World Cups (and would have been two more were it not for World War II), dating back to 1930. I grew up hearing about the magic of Pele and witnessing the marvels of Maradona. In contrast, I was graduating college during the first Women’s World Cup. I know every player on the men’s national team but only knew a handful of players on the women’s team. I could name several players on the majority of teams in the men’s World Cup but could only name Marta when it comes to the women’s. I turned on the England vs. Slovenia Euro qualifier today and knew every single English player and even a couple of Slovenians, but wouldn’t be able to name a single player on their women’s teams.
Maybe I’m a bad USA fan or, worse, maybe I really am chauvinistic when it comes to soccer. But, no, I don’t think so. I think I, like so many other soccer fans in every country around the world, am only now beginning to acquire a taste for the flavor of women’s soccer. I will, no doubt, learn more of their names and follow more of their careers and, inevitably, be more interested and vested in their future exploits. I will more consistently see it as “just soccer.” And for that, as much as anything else, I can thank my precious daughter.
This is farlieonfootie for June 16.