For local diehard fans of women’s soccer, this week's U.S. vs. Scotland exhibition match is an unprecedented opportunity to see the American team — stars both old and new. With 29 players on the American roster, it's hard to tell exactly how long any given player will be on the field; the smart money is on a rotation of talent.
Returning to the pitch for the American side, after more than a year-long layoff: defender Ali Krieger. Krieger, a 28-year-old alumna of the Penn State Nittany Lions, tore knee ligaments in an Olympic qualifier match against the Dominican Republic last year. She'd spent the better part of the last five years overseas playing in Germany, but has decided to spend the next stretch of her career Stateside. A big driver of that decision, as you would expect, is her involvement with the U.S. National Team.
“They really kept me motivated to want to get back, but also my younger fans and actually just my fans in general,” Krieger told NWSL News. “They were amazing throughout my entire process of rehab, and I couldn’t thank them enough. But little did they know they inspired me so much to want to get back. I received letters from all across the world saying how much I inspired them to want to be better and be good players. You know, you don’t realize that until someone writes you, so having the support of the fans, the National Team and U.S. Soccer was unreal. I was so thankful and grateful for them.”
There are many athletes on many levels who derive strength from their fanbases. This seems especially true with female athletes, perhaps due to the barriers that have kept women’s sports from being considered equal to men’s, barriers rooted in patriarchal constructions that extend well beyond the metaphorical arena of sport.
In men’s sports, there's often the tacit understanding that the athlete is an antihero. Think Jack Tatum, crippling people in the ’70s as an Oakland Raider. Think of Charles Barkley, who famously said, "A million guys can dunk a basketball in jail; should they be role models?" Male athletes are often expected to have, and are lionized for, their “edge.” In women’s sports, we often see a predictable double standard.
Consider the case of Hope Solo, one of my favorite athletes in the world.
Hope Solo has been the national soccer team goalkeeper for a long time and it seems that, throughout her career, the “mercurial” goalkeeper has drawn controversy. Of course, the great ones always do.
In 2007, for example, Solo had been the starting goalie during four games of the Women’s World Cup, in which she gave up two goals. Her reward? Being benched in the semifinal against Brazil, replaced by Briana Scurry, who looked every bit of her 36 years as she gave up four goals against Brazil’s kinetic squad.
After the match, Solo scored a blow for the team’s necessary infusion of new blood with this jarring riposte: "[Benching me] was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that. There’s no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. And the fact of the matter is it’s not 2004 anymore. It’s not 2004. And it’s 2007, and I think you have to live in the present. And you can’t live by big names. You can’t live in the past. It doesn’t matter what somebody did in an Olympic gold medal game in the Olympics three years ago. Now is what matters, and that’s what I think."
Now it’s 2013, of course, and Solo (currently involved in a tempestuous marriage with former NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens) is getting some tread on her own tires, and facing heavy competition. The U.S. roster will feature five goalkeepers. With the development of the women’s game and a new coach, competition for the team slots will be fierce. That’s good for the game, good for the team and good for America.
Until recently, February has been kind of a blah month for local sports events. Between the just-concluded Davis Cup and this, however, we are witnessing sports on a world stage. Don't miss it.