What A World Cup: Recapping The 2019 Women's Tournament
With Jane Clayson
The Women’s World Cup broke attendance records across continents and shattered stereotypes. We look at the way forward for women in sports.
Caitlin Murray, soccer journalist. Author of “The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer.” She covered the World Cup for The Guardian. (@caitlinmurr)
Angela Hucles, two-time Olympic gold medalist for U.S. Soccer. Two-time World Cup bronze medalist for the U.S. Women’s National Team. Analyst for the FIFA Women’s World Cup with Fox Sports. (@angelahucles)
From The Reading List
Excerpt from “The National Team” by Caitlin Murray
“We’re Not Very USA-ish”
It was almost as if the national came together by accident.
In 1985, there was seemingly little reason for a U.S. women’s soccer team to exist. There was no Women’s World Cup and no women’s soccer in the Olympics, and there were no major trophies on the line.
But there was a group of women who had been pushing to change that. With connections to the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Soccer Federation, Marty Mankamyer, Betty D’Anjolell, and Mavis Derflinger, among others, pushed decision-makers to take women’s soccer seriously. Their goal was for it to one day become an Olympic sport.
“We warned them on more than one occasion: You can’t brush off recognizing women,” Mankamyer remembers.
In the summer of 1985, the perfect opportunity arose for women’s soccer to take a leap forward in America. That’s when the National Sports Festival, a sort of mini-Olympics for amateur athletes, would be held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Even though women’s soccer was still a long way off from becoming an Olympic sport, the Sports Festival organizers decided to give it a chance and include women’s soccer for the first time.
A metallurgist from Seattle named Mike Ryan, who coached one of the regional teams there, was approached by officials from U.S. Soccer during the Sports Festival. They wanted him to pick 17 players from those competing at the Festival and coach the U.S. women’s national team in its first tournament, which was due to start in Italy in one week. The U.S. women’s national team had existed on paper before that— some players remember making a list after regional tournaments in 1982, 1983, and 1984—but now there was a reason for the team to exist on the field. The national team had its first invitation to play in a real tournament, and U.S. Soccer decided before the Sports Festival that they’d pick a team from the players there.
“After the last game, they sat everybody down and said, We’re going to pick a national team and the team is going to train in New York and then you’ll go to Italy. That was the first anybody had ever heard of it,” says Ann Orrison, who made the list and eventually played five times for the U.S. team.
The name of Brandi Chastain, a 17-year-old striker from San Jose, California, wasn’t on the list. She was there in Baton Rouge too but had far less experience than the college players who made the cut. She also didn’t even realize she had missed out on playing for the first national team.
“There weren’t any hard feelings,” Chastain says now, 192 appearances for the U.S. later. “Honestly, I didn’t know anything about it. I had a great time at that tournament—my parents came, and I had lots of friends there.”
The women who did make the list, plucked from the Sports Festival, didn’t form a team so much as a mishmash of players. But it was a start.
They went to New York City and played scrimmages against local club teams from Long Island. The training camp lasted just three days, and then they were set to fly to Italy for the Mundialito, which is Spanish for “little World Cup.”
The players didn’t have any official uniforms, of course, so the federation rounded up some kits, ironed “USA” on the front, and gave them to the players. The uniforms were huge and appeared to be men’s kits. Mike Ryan later recalled: “Everything came around their ankles—they looked like little gorillas walking around.”
So, the night before their flight to Italy, the team was up late, cutting and sewing their uniforms and training gear, trying to make everything fit properly.
“We were trying to figure out who fit into which uniforms best,” remembers Ann Orrison. “Our trainer was hemming warm-up pants so they would semi-fit.”
They managed to make the clothes wearable, but they didn’t look like what a U.S. national team should wear. The sweat suits were blue and pink while the white game shirts had only a little red trim around the collar and shoulders. None of the players had numbers.
“They weren’t U.S. colors,” recalled Michelle Akers, one of the only two players to make that team and keep playing long term. “I remember feeling like, Well, I don’t know what this national team is anyway, but we’re not very USA-ish.”
From New York, the group flew to Milan and then took a bus five hours to Jesolo, a small resort town outside of Venice. That was the site of the Mundialito, a four-team women’s soccer tournament that was one of a kind at the time.
They may have been a ragtag bunch, but the national team was born.
Excerpted from THE NATIONAL TEAM by Caitlin Murray. Copyright © 2019 by Caitlin Murray. Reprinted by permission of Harry N. Abrams. All rights reserved.
The Guardian: “What it’s like covering Megan Rapinoe, the World Cup’s most interesting star” — “As Megan Rapinoe steps up to the barricade in the mixed zone – the area where journalists try to interview players as they walk past — the energy shifts. Every reporter pushes forward to get as close as possible to the woman with short, pink hair and round pink-tinted sunglasses. There is not a more interesting player at this Women’s World Cup, and no one has been more quotable.
“The Guardian has asked me to write this column about Rapinoe, so I jump in to ask a question first, prefacing it by pointing out that many fans are only learning about Rapinoe for the first time during this tournament. She interjects: ‘Late to the party, people!’ The scrum of journalists laugh. Then the question: has Rapinoe always been so authentic and so blunt? Or was it a conscious decision?
“‘I’ve grown into it, but I’ve always approached things that way. As you guys know, I’m pretty off the cuff – probably sometimes too off the cuff,’ she says with a wry smile. ‘I like to be open and honest. It feels weird to be any other way or hold that back. I’m an emotional person and passionate person and share those feelings across many different parts of that life. Becoming older and a little bit more secure in myself, I’ve probably become more brazen but I think it’s always been there.’
“Indeed, Rapinoe was always effervescent, exuding a certain irreverence in the oh-so-serious world of sports. But her willingness to take on controversy head-on, and her comfort in not just navigating the media but in setting her own narrative, has notably increased as she has become one of the most senior members of the US team. That includes how she deals with the media.”
Slate: “Opinion: We Don’t Deserve the U.S. Women’s National Team” — “We expect athletes to win, and to abase themselves when they lose. We expect them to play through pain, and to come back from injury in six weeks if the trainers say the timeframe is six to eight. We expect them to answer questions thoughtfully, even when those questions aren’t formulated as questions.
“When those athletes are women, they’re expected to deal with all that and shrug off trolls who tell them to get into the kitchen. And when those women are on the U.S. national soccer team, the expectations heaped upon them are yet more ludicrous. The USWNT is supposed to beat all comers in every tournament they enter, all while serving as role models to the nation’s children and leading a fight for working women (including themselves) to be treated with respect.
“The women of U.S. soccer, in other words, have been set up to fail, which is why it’s so remarkable that they hardly ever do. Both on and off the field, they make the heavy burdens they’re asked to carry appear weightless. The USWNT has maneuvered its way through the 2019 World Cup with discipline and joy. They’re playing for their nation, their fans, and themselves, and if you can’t see that then you don’t understand sports or what it means to respect the flag and the country.”
New York Times: “FIFA President Proposes Expansion of Women’s World Cup and Doubling of Prize Money” — “Basking in the success of this summer’s Women’s World Cup in France, Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, said Friday that he had proposed expanding the event to 32 teams from 24, possibly as soon as the next World Cup in 2023, and doubling prize money and financial support for the teams that take part.
“The World Cup, which started with 12 teams in 1991, expanded to 16 in 1999 and to 24 in 2015. With a further expansion, it could be opened to second-tier teams that narrowly missed out on qualification this year.
“Expansion would mean more opportunity for growth of women’s soccer in new markets, but it also carries competitive risks: While the women’s game has been growing deeper, particularly in Europe, it still can throw up an occasional mismatch when an elite team meets a developing one. One example was the 13-0 victory by the United States over Thailand in this year’s group stage.
“Expansion of FIFA’s biggest tournament has been a theme of Infantino’s presidency. The men’s tournament is scheduled to grow to 48 teams from its current 32 in 2026, when it will be held in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Infantino is also pushing a plan to significantly expand FIFA’s world club championship.”
Allison Pohle produced this show for broadcast.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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