Reflections on USA 2(5) – BRA 2(3)

Unlike the prescient Julie Foudy, who (despite not knowing how much time was left in the USA-Brazil Women’s World Cup game) knew that the United States would eventually win, I did not.

I rather thought they would lose.

I considered (and still do) the Brazil team more skillful, Marta the best player in the world (as she is), and the United States’ brutish style of play (despite its effectiveness) deserving of the comeuppance it had earlier received in the tournament from Sweden.  And, despite the miraculous, last-second Abby Wambach goal, I continued to think that the United States would lose — until the moment I saw the faces of the Brazilians lined up to await penalties…

I have seen that distant stare before.  It is the same stare that elite youth soccer clubs, resplendent in their high-end uniforms and attended by a coterie of coaches in matching jackets, receive from their less well-outfitted opponents.  It is the stare of the stoically poor in the presence of the boisterously rich.  It is the stare of a team waiting to lose.

I could quickly find no focused image of that stare to show you, though it remains fixed in my mind from the broadcast.  However, the image above reproduces it almost exactly, despite the advanced context of the United States victory.

The Brazilians — particularly #3, the game’s star-crossed Daiane — look exactly the same before as after their defeat.  In a couple of instances, the Brazilians seem relieved.

Sometimes in sport we interpret such stoicism as a mark of character, in line with Kipling’s advice:  to “meet with triumph and disaster | and treat those two impostors just the same.”  But this is a more reasonable platitude for those who have their triumphs confidently assured than those who have their disasters frequent and foretold.

Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and other members of the 1999 USA Women’s World Cup championship team are feted incessantly in front of the USA television viewing audience.  They are given sponsorships and interviews, commentary positions and magazine covers.  If they perform less well at their current tasks than they did twelve years ago in the Rose Bowl, it is of little consequence. Contracts have been signed; fees have been exchanged.

The best player on the Chinese team defeated by the USA women in 1999 was their diminutive forward Sun Wen, whose fate may well have been similar to that of Mia Hamm — if by some odd chance Sun Wen had been born in the United States.  In a 2010 Virginia Youth Soccer Association interview, Sun Wen was asked to recall her favorite memory of her soccer career.  Her choice was a game in the 1999 World Cup tournament, but not the final; it was a game against Norway. “We played that game well,” she said. “Very organized.”

Brazil’s Marta is the five-time (successive) FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year. Unlike Sun Wen, Marta has no American counterpart, no United States doppelganger to match her speed, skill, cleverness, and fire. Matured and coiffed members of the 1999 USA team, cameras in their faces, microphones in the hands, loose skin at their necks, admonish Marta’s behavior in Brazil’s defeat.  They believe Marta was “whiny.”

I wonder where the whiny Marta will be twelve years from now.  Where will a late-30’s Christiane be?

And where will Daiane, poor, ill-fated Daiane, be?  What youth soccer association will interview her on a cleat-torn pitch in fading afternoon light?

There’s good reason why Thierry Henry, David Beckham, and Pelé, even Pelé, have come to die their soccer deaths in the USA, a mystical Grey Havens for those aged and favored by their gods.

***

Briana Scurry, goalkeeper of the 1999 USA women’s team and major architect of their controversial shootout victory, is trotted before my television screen to comment on the performance of her once bitter rival and now newly minted media favorite, current USA women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo.  Briana’s comments are favorable; I forget what she says exactly.

I better remember Briana’s comment from twelve years ago:   “It’s only cheating if you get caught.”

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