Women’s Soccer: More Than Sexy

There are a lot of reasons—including great athleticism and players with local ties—to watch the U.S. team play Japan this weekend

This has been a rough week of Phillies withdrawal. Four lousy innings of Doc and Cliff in the All-Star game and I’m feeling strung-out and twitchy like Bubbles from The Wire. The hunger for baseball ends tonight with a series in New York, and Sunday’s matinee would normally be a must-see for me. But not this weekend—and not because the Mets are a trainwreck this season, both athletically and financially. I never thought I’d say this, but instead of watching baseball, I’m all about women’s soccer and the U.S. matchup with Japan for the World Cup championship.

Let me be clear: I’m not a rabid soccer fan. I don’t have season tickets to the Union. All of the flopping and fake injuries drive me nuts. I don’t know FC Barcelona from FC Kerbeck. But last Sunday’s match between the U.S. and Brazil was one of the most dramatic comebacks I’ve seen. Not just in soccer. Not in women’s athletics. In any sport.

I can hear the mocking laughter already, especially since we’ve seen a few unbelievable comebacks from our local teams recently: the Eagles “Miracle at the Meadowlands Part II” won an ESPY Award for best game of the year this week, and the Flyers made history when they dug out of a 0-3 hole in the Eastern Conference semis to beat the Bruins two years ago. If you’re a true sports fan, though, last Sunday’s win for the U.S. women had all the elements of the best athletic theater. In the center of it all is Hope Solo in net for the Americans, looking for redemption after being benched against Brazil in 2007 and then getting booted off the team.

Solo made a potentially game-winning save on a penalty kick, only to have the referee call a rarely used foul. On the re-kick, Brazil sent in its best player and she tied the score. The U.S. was slapped with a red card and played the last 25 minutes and the entire 30-minute overtime down a player. One of the Brazilians was carried off the field on a stretcher, only to jog back onto the pitch a minute later, miraculously healed from what appeared to be a grave injury. In the bonus time awarded because of her antics, Abby Wambach headed in a beautiful long-distance arching pass to force a shootout—and sent me leaping off the couch in a frenzy that’s usually reserved for World Series games. Solo came up with another monster diving save (against the poor Brazilian who gave the U.S. its first goal by accidentally punting it into her own net). All five U.S. snipers found the twine and sealed the improbable victory. If you put all of those plot twists into a movie script, no one in Hollywood would touch it.

Still not sold? Maybe the team’s local ties will move you to show this team a little love: Delran’s Carli Lloyd, one of the top offensive threats; Penn State star Ali Krieger, who scored the winning goal against Brazil; Vineland’s Jill Loyden, the backup keeper; and a number of players with ties to the Philadelphia Independence, including our old pal, Philly Mag cover girl Heather Mitts. Speaking of whom, a lesser man might also point out there’s no shortage of beautiful women on this team, but that would be like saying you should watch the Phillies because they have the sexiest rotation in baseball (and maybe they do, but that’s for someone else to debate).

I suspect the U.S. women’s soccer team wouldn’t care if you watch them take on Japan just to see some toned hotties running around in shorts. So come for the sex appeal or to root for a few Philly expats. I bet you’ll stay for the athleticism and the drama—even if you flip channels for an occasional Phillies update. Sorry, fellas, but this Sunday belongs to the ladies.

The Women’s World Cup Final airs at 2:45 p.m. on Sunday, July 17, on ESPN.