ROCHESTER — Our bus turned the corner toward the stadium. A full two hours before kickoff of the Western New York versus magicJack game last Wednesday, people were already searching for parking and making their way to the stadium gate, where the line stretched down the block. Chills.
It was more than a glimpse at my dream for women’s soccer. Extra bleachers had to be added to 13,000-seat Sahlen’s Stadium to accommodate more than 15,400 (a W.P.S. record) screaming fans. Youth players fought their way to the fence for high-fives as we entered the field for warm-ups. Many hung around after the game, desperately trying to collect autographs and photos with their favorite players.
There has been much speculation on the impact that the 2011 Women’s World Cup will have on W.P.S. Already, it has been enormous.
I watched the World Cup from several vantage points — as a player hoping to participate in the 2015 World Cup in Canada, but also as a fan, and supporter of the development of the women’s game.
In the 2007 World Cup, Germany demolished Argentina, 11-0, and Norway beat Ghana, 7-2. There were no such games in the 2011 tournament. World Cup debutantes like Equatorial Guinea and Colombia showed that they were forces to be reckoned with. Three of the four quarterfinal games went into extra time, and three matches had to be decided in penalties. Women’s soccer is no longer a battle among four or five powerhouse teams, with some others added to fill the brackets. This signifies huge growth in the women’s game and is vital leading into the 2015 World Cup, which will include 24 teams instead, up from 16.
Japan, the eventual tournament champion, also says something about the development of the women’s game. Any team that beats Germany and the U.S. (despite arguably being outplayed by the Americans) in the same tournament can, in my eyes, proudly claim a championship. As I mentioned in my previous post, the level of play and differing cultural expressions of fútbol in the World Cup were awe-inspiring.
Throughout the tournament, Japan moved the ball like no women’s team I have seen. Their technical ability and tactical savvy set them apart, and they were able to persevere despite the devastation the country has experienced recently. Where some teams showed that they had individual brilliance or superior physical talent, Japan’s World Cup title is the prize for a complete team effort. It is the result of discipline, class and a brand of fútbol that has been groomed over many years but with not much recognition on the world stage until this point. In many ways they have taken the women’s game to a new level of sophistication.
So, what does all of this mean for me, and for W.P.S.?
For the moment, the spotlight is on women’s soccer. Maybe games for the rest of this season will be sold out. Maybe not. But no matter how lasting or ephemeral the impact, what I saw as our bus pulled up to the stadium the other night was more than girls with pink prewrap in their hair to imitate Alex Morgan.
It was more than the I ♥ Abby signs. It was more than the Brazil jerseys with Marta’s name on the back. It was hope — hope that something that my teammates and I care so deeply about may one day be appreciated and embraced by the masses.