Women’s soccer, at least for now, com­mands cen­ter stage

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Ben­jamin Hochman

This is Amer­ica, 2019.

The women on the U.S. na­tional soccer team, tough and strong, are these forces play­ing their style un­com­pro­mis­ingly and in­com­pa­ra­bly _ win­ners win­ning. As a team, for the team, for their team­mates, for their coun­try.

This is Amer­ica, 2019. A re­sponse to ev­ery­thing this team does comes with a smidgen of smug judg­ing. Like a know-itall older si­b­ling, so many on­look­ers _ in our lives and on­line _ be­lieve they know pre­cisely how this team of women should act, and they'll be the judges of whether the team fits within their pa­ram­e­ters.

This is Amer­ica, 2019. Alex Mor­gan: Celebrity sports star. She's a sen­sa­tion, a pre­vi­ous cham­pion, a na­tional hero. She's ubiq­ui­tous and glam­orous but still plays her sport with gruff grit. She hon­ors the le­gacy of the women who played be­fore her. She knows her his­tory and takes pride in mak­ing some, too. She has 3.7 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Twit­ter and count­less fol­low­ers of younger soccer play­ers, girls and boys, who watch and want to play soccer like Alex does.

This is Amer­ica, 2019. Alex Mor­gan: Of­fen­sive feather-ruf­fler. She scored a gor­geous goal in the World Cup semi­fi­nal against Eng­land — the go-ahead goal and even­tual win­ner — and in a cun­ning, con­fi­dent and soit-seems con­tro­ver­sial man­ner, made a tea-sip­ping ges­ture, pinkie out.

Her cre­ative cel­e­bra­tion fit the times in which a younger gen­er­a­tion of ath­letes flash flam­boy­ance.

They work hard, so they cel­e­brate hard. This was an end­zone touch­down dance or some chore­ographed silli­ness done by the walk-ons on the end of a col­lege bas­ket­ball bench, fol­low­ing a big 3-poin­ter.

But the neg­a­tive re­sponse to Mor­gan came in a vir­tual del­uge, much from the other side of the ocean, who claimed she dis­re­spected Eng­land.

Again, she pre­tended to sip a cuppa tea.

This is Amer­ica, 2019.

The most dom­i­nant, el­e­gant, high­est-level of sport is played by our na­tive daugh­ters.

There was Becky Sauer­brunn, born and raised in St. Louis, ex­tin­guish­ing Eng­land's of­fen­sive at­tacks (ex­cept for, it's only fair to point out, her leg-clip­ping in the box that led to a penalty shot). Rose Lavelle, strate­gi­cally toy­ing with de­fend­ers, un­leash­ing moves that take mul­ti­ple but­tons to make on a video game. Crys­tal Dunn, com­posed on de­fense, fear­less on the oc­ca­sional burst on of­fense. And Alyssa Nae­her, hop­ing to some­day have a sen­tence said about her without the words "Hope Solo," mak­ing her own mark as the U.S. goalie, stop­ping that penalty shot in the 84th minute.

This is Amer­ica, 2019.

These same women have to fight for equal pay. They sued the United States Soccer Fed­er­a­tion, claim­ing "pur­pose­ful gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion." As Sauer­brunn said in a state­ment: "It is wrong for us to be paid and val­ued less for our work be­cause of our gen­der."

This is Amer­ica, 2019.

Our na­tion show­ing so much pas­sion for women's sports. It's such an ex­cit­ing time. The front page of last Sun­day's New York Times Sports sec­tion fea­tured only sto­ries about fe­male ath­letes: Ser­ena Wil­liams, Maya Moore and soccer star Me­gan Rapi­noe. Across the coun­try, there's in­ner-of­fice talk about the soccer game _ even watch­ing the soccer game at the of­fice. There are boys wear­ing the jer­seys of their fa­vorite fe­male play­ers. There are sar­dine bars host­ing watch par­ties.

This is Amer­ica, 2019.

We're to­tally im­mersed and into women's soccer ... un­til we're es­sen­tially not at all, once again. As sum­mer cools into fall, so many sports fans for­get about the play­ers they once adored. There is such a jar­ring dis­pro­por­tion in pop­u­lar­ity be­tween in­ter­na­tional play and pro­fes­sional play. The women play in a league whose acro­nym you prob­a­bly couldn't guess _ and for teams you prob­a­bly didn't know ex­ist. They're still the same stars from your beloved na­tional team, but be­hind clouds.

This is Amer­ica, 2019.

Rapi­noe, the mes­mer­iz­ing, po­lar­iz­ing goal-scorer, un­abashedly proud of her team­mates, her own hard work, her fam­ily, her girl­friend, her be­liefs and her so­cial-jus­tice causes. This is Amer­ica, 2019. Rapi­noe, the cap­tain of the Amer­ica's na­tional soccer team, hav­ing to ex­plain that she's "ex­tremely Amer­i­can."

"I think that I'm par­tic­u­larly and uniquely and very deeply Amer­i­can," she told re­porters in France on Wed­nes­day. "If we want to talk about the ideals that we stand for _ the songs and the an­them, what we were founded on _ I think I'm ex­tremely Amer­i­can.

"I think for de­trac­tors, I would have them look hard into what I'm say­ing and the ac­tions that I'm do­ing. Maybe you don't agree with ev­ery sin­gle way that I do it, and that can be dis­cussed. I know that I'm not per­fect, but I think that I stand for hon­esty and for truth and for want­ing to have the con­ver­sa­tion and for look­ing at the coun­try hon­estly and say­ing, 'Yes, we are a great coun­try, and there's many things that are so amaz­ing.' And I feel very for­tu­nate to be in this coun­try”

TRIBUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Me­gan Rapi­noe of the USA looks on dur­ing the warm up prior to a match be­tween Eng­land and USA.

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