If you don't know me and you're not familiar with my views towards the sport of soccer, let me quickly explain the foundation of how I approach the sport. Put simply, I'm 100 percent club before country. That doesn't mean I ignore international level soccer, far from it. I still watch the World Cup, the Euros, the Gold Cup and of course, the Olympics. I just enjoy club football more and view international football as a necessary evil that basically just finds way to injure key players for the clubs I support.
Despite those feelings, I've found myself drifting toward women's soccer at the international level in the recent years. With WPS gone and foreign women's leagues difficult to watch, the main exposure we now get to the women's game is at the international level. Since I'm an American, I of course follow the U.S. Women's National Team. And over the course of the past couple years, they have become one of my favorite teams to watch, club or country.
Why? Megan Rapinoe's hair. All right, I'm kidding ... sort of. I do love her hair and I'm still highly annoyed at Nike for never releasing a men's version of the Rapinoe hair shirt. Sorry, I digress.
I love this team, and it's not a superficial physical thing because I'm a heterosexual male. I love the USWNT because they are talented, they have loud and bright personalities and they make watching the sport of soccer fun. Basically, they're everything that the men's national team is not ... and yes, they are attractive. I have to admit it, otherwise I'd be lying, but there's much more to it than that.
The USMNT is playing against Mexico at Azteca next week, but I really don't care. Sorry, I know it's a big deal, but I'm not interested.
Jurgen Klinsmann and the men's team are for me like watching paint dry. That's not a shot at the players at all. In fact, it's more a shot at fans and the media who spend countless hours over analyzing every single move made by the team. Every match is scrutinized to the point of absurdity; every roster announcement is greeted with endless amounts of complaints, criticism and whining. It's simply not fun at all for me to watch the USMNT.
Because of that, I'd all but given up on caring about international soccer. My club over country leanings became more and more severe, to the point where I'd begun to fret the arrival of another international tournament. So I decided to turn my focus to the women's team and see if they could restore some level of appreciation in international soccer for me.
Watching the 2011 Women's World Cup was the most fun I've had watching a major international tournament in years. I was driving home from Houston during the U.S. vs. Brazil quarterfinal match and nearly wrecked my car celebrating Abby Wambach's last breath equalizer as I followed the results on Twitter. I shivered in the freezing cold in Frisco, Texas last February and enjoyed an entertaining 2-1 victory for the US over New Zealand. I've watched nearly every minute of the USWNT Olympics run this summer in London. I'm hooked. I love this team.
I think what I love most about the USWNT is how imperfect they are. They're definitely one of the best teams in the world, but they still have their issues. The defense has been very shaky of late, Pia Sundhage makes us cross-eyed with lineup choices at times, Hope Solo is at least a little bit crazy, and the list goes on. They are not perfect, but when they step onto the pitch I believe that they will win every match and I know they are going to give everything that have.
I look forward to each match in which the team plays because I know I'm going to see a group of talented athletes playing for the love of their country and doing an fantastic job representing American soccer.
Most of these players are not getting huge endorsement deals and playing for big club contracts. That's not to say that a handful aren't doing very well on the financial front, but the money in the women's game pales in comparison to the men's game. Since the men's game drives the big TV ratings and ticket sales, I understand the gap, but that just makes me appreciate the USWNT even more.
For many of these players, their club futures are uncertain after this Olympic tournament. Most will be able to find a place to play without much trouble, but where they will play and the type of money they will be able to make is very much up in the air. Without the huge stage that club soccer proves the men's game, the women's game struggles to stay on the radar of soccer fans in the time between major tournaments.
Each World Cup and Olympic tournament gets better and better, with more countries becoming competitive and the level of play increasing by noticeable amounts. However, the women's game has to fight the uphill battle of reminding soccer fans that their game is worth paying attention to at the start of each event because it's so easily forgotten about in between.
This situation is even tougher in America where the sports landscape is saturated with options for fans and the battle for the sports consciousness is a never ending battle royale. With the loss of the WPS, the women's game will again have to fight hard to hold on to people's attention until the next big international tournament provides them a stage. That's not to say there isn't hope: the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) is working hard to fill the gap left by the WPS. Hopefully, the league will be able to retain some big names from the national team and have the staying power that previous women's leagues have failed to show.
It's this underdog nature for the women's game that endears the USWNT to me even more beyond the enjoyment I get from watching this team. Rapinoe's insanely accurate crossing, Wambach's fire and beautiful power, and Alex Morgan's relentless energy are just some of the reasons why I enjoy this team so much. They play at a tremendously high level and I appreciate that. More importantly, thanks to social media, in the time between the matches, we see how much fun they have being a part of the national team and it just makes them so much easier to love.
I also like that in a small way I'm able to help to give the women's game legitimacy. I'm not trying to make myself sound special; I'm not. What I do realize, though, is that for some reason people read what I write and listen to what I have to say, and if I can help pay back women's soccer for the joy I get from it by promoting the game, that makes me feel good.
I hope that by writing about the USWNT and talking about them on social media, others will give them and the women's game in general a chance to prove that it's worth their attention. Gone are the days of anyone being able to write off women's soccer as being a "slower and less skilled" version of soccer. If you hear or see anyone offering those opinions, politely put them in their place.
I love the USWNT. Love them, love them, love them. I love them in a way that I hope I might one day be able to love the USMNT. If that never happens though, I'll be just fine, because I get all the passion and enjoyment I need from our women's national team. In fact, I'm proud to say that they've saved me from completely turning my back on the international game. They've reminded me of why it can be fun to support your national team and why so many others care so much about it. I thank them for that and in return I'll do my best to ensure that they and the sport of women's soccer get the respect it deserves.
I said at the opening of this piece that I was 100 percent club before country. Maybe I was wrong. I think it now might be more like 75 percent club before country.
We'll have news and features in the build-up to our live coverage of the final in our USA Vs. Japan, London 2012 Olympics StoryStream.