USNWT Spectacular

As you may recall from a previous issue, Your Dames were swept along on a tide of athletic national pride a few weeks ago thanks to the outstanding athleticism and exuberant celebrations of the US National Women's Team as they stormed France to win the FIFA World Cup. Since we're 100% international tournament-based low-information fans, we thought we'd ask a friend from Dames Nation to write a more detailed explainer about what makes this team so special. We're delighted to share with you Sarah Gillis' thoughts on the team and what they've meant to her as a soccer fan over the years. Sarah is a library cataloger, podcast enthusiast, and collector of facts that will probably never be useful but are nonetheless fascinating. You can find her on Twitter at @ser_pez.  Take it away, Sarah!

Theyyyyy are the champions, my friends

The day after the US Women’s National Team won the 2019 Women’s World Cup, almost all of my coworkers stopped at my desk on their way in to tell me they’d watched the game or heard about the game or to ask if I was happy with the result (which, obviously, I was). I felt no small amount of triumph at this, because I had made it my mission for the entire month of June to keep them apprised of the World Cup goings-on, whether they were interested or not - and most of them were not. Most of them are not sports fans. Honestly, I’m barely a sports fan. Football takes forever, baseball is ok in person but boring on TV, hockey is tolerable. I am, however, a big soccer fan, especially when it comes to the US Women’s National Team (USWNT).

There are plenty of people who can tell you where they were when the USWNT won the 1999 Women’s World Cup (and even if they didn’t watch the game, they probably saw the photo of Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey in joyous celebration after she scored the winning penalty kick). I do remember watching it, but unlike a lot of those people, I then lost track of the national team for most of the next decade. I’m sure I watched some games during the Olympics, but I don’t remember them specifically. I do remember watching a few games during the 2011 World Cup, but I didn’t know who most of the players were and I didn’t feel a strong connection to any of them. 

And then Megan Rapinoe came out.

It was the summer of 2012, right before the London Olympics. I would not be exaggerating at all to tell you that I remember the MOMENT I learned she had come out in an interview with Out Magazine. I barely knew who she was, but it immediately registered that it was a big. deal. My life was an absolute shitshow that summer - it was probably the worst year of my life. But I remember being delighted to read that the USWNT had an out player, and I remember watching their games once the Olympics began that summer with a renewed interest. Luckily this was right around the time that US Soccer started posting more video about the team. I started to care about who the players were, and I wanted to learn more about them. This increased in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup in Canada - I had never considered myself a sports fan, but I was suddenly so drawn to the narratives these players brought to the game. 

I love that so many people who aren’t fans were drawn into some of those narratives this summer. But as much as I love the really well-known players like Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Megan Rapinoe, there were twenty other players on the World Cup roster and each one contributes something different to the story of this team. I want to introduce you to some of my favorites. 

(Note: I recommend this playful primer on the actual game of soccer, presented by author Glennon Doyle, who also happens to be married to a very accomplished retired soccer player. I will not be focusing on any complex soccer concepts, but it’s just very entertaining.)

Sam Mewis: she’s the tallest player ever to play for the USWNT and she just warms my heart. Her sense of humor is fun and a touch self-deprecating - she can laugh at herself. She always looks a little surprised when she scores a goal. Her dad worked an extra job to pay for club soccer fees and travel for Sam and her sister Kristie (also a professional soccer player), and her reaction to seeing him after winning the World Cup legit made me cry.  

What a gem

Becky Sauerbrunn: one of the most indispensable pieces of the US team’s defense, it’s a testament to her skill that you don’t always notice her influence on a game in real time - since she prevents the other team from scoring or completing big plays, it’s easy to assume she isn’t making an impact. She doesn’t post on social media as much as some of the other players, but she seems to favor quality over quantity. A member of the now-seemingly-defunct USWNT Nerd Squad (a group of players who made it a point to sightsee on team trips), Becky is also a voracious reader who especially loves sci-fi and fantasy and she is devoted to her cats. I find her extremely relatable. 

Ugh, same!

Kelley O’Hara: truly tough as nails and famously one of the fittest members of the team. Equally likely to play through a bloody nose as she is to slip and fall on the grass. Long-reigning queen of the beep test (a perhaps unnecessarily complicated fitness test that measures a player’s endurance). After winning the World Cup, she went over to the stands and kissed her girlfriend. As Kim McCauley wrote:

“This is not a shocking or revolutionary act in 2019. Lots of people are queer in public now, and everyone knows there are queer players on the United States women’s national soccer team. But what made this moment significant is that O’Hara had not previously made any kind of announcement about her partner or sexual orientation. She didn’t follow this moment up with an interview, a social media post, or a proclamation of any kind. She just had an affectionate moment with her partner, then continued her life as normal, because what she did is normal and should not require an explanation.”

Awwwww

Julie Ertz: Julie Ertz’s forehead has scored more goals than most other players’ entire bodies. She is the queen of the header, especially off a corner kick.  She is an extremely skilled player. You can always find Julie on the field by looking for a high blonde ponytail and a baby blue headband. 

Stylish head to toe

There’s a frustrating thing that happens when a female athlete is married to or dating a man who’s famous. Julie Ertz, a two-time World Cup champion, is married to a professional athlete who’s pretty successful in his own right (Super Bowl Champion Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles). When he went to France this summer to watch her compete at the highest level of her sport, there were headlines like “Eagles tight end Zach Ertz leaves training camp to watch wife in World Cup” (though to their credit, CBS News added Julie’s name to the headline on the website after women’s soccer twitter dragged them hard). Luckily the Eagles knew how ridiculous the headline was and joked about it on social media soon after.

Ashlyn Harris: Ashlyn did the Lord’s work by documenting what seemed like every moment of the team’s champagne-soaked post-World Cup celebrations. But besides broadcasting bacchanalia (which I was 100% here for), she is one of the players who is most deliberate about using her platform to talk about issues. She has always been very open about her own struggles with mental health and her family’s struggles with addiction and has worked with To Write Love on Her Arms, a non-profit dedicated to mental health awareness and suicide prevention. She recently announced her engagement to her teammate and all around queen Ali Krieger. Also, she once slapped a bully in the face with a dead fish. An icon!

A final note: the World Cup may be over, but the good news is that every single member of the USWNT plays on a professional team in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL)! Thanks to a new deal with ESPN, you can watch at least one game per week for the rest of the season on actual TV, and all of the others are available to stream on Yahoo Sports. Better yet, if you live in a city that has an NWSL team, you can go watch your favorite USWNT players in person - as well as World Cup competitors from Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Jamaica, England, and more! Seriously, these are the best players in the world, and you can get a ticket to most NWSL games for less than $20. (Shameless plug: my team is Sky Blue FC, based in New Jersey, and features Carli Lloyd of the USWNT, as well as players from the national teams of Bosnia, Cameroon, Canada, Costa Rica, and Japan.)

Lastly, if you want more women’s soccer in your life, there is a whole world out there on Twitter for you. WoSo Twitter is a wonderland of gfs, banter, and love for the game. Two soccer writers I recommend are Meg Linehan and Steph Yang. Meg was the first writer to cover exclusively women’s soccer for The Athletic and Steph heads the new women’s soccer site All For XI. Both are queer women who have been a big part of the expansion of women’s soccer coverage in the last few years and I so admire them both.


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