|Abby Wambach lifts the World Cup championship trophy, and joins her|
U.S. teammates in celebration (photo by Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
If you have read this blog regularly, you might know that soccer was my first sports love -- back in Holland more than 60 years ago. It's still up there with baseball and then basketball ... yes, all those even more than American football.
So watching a team I was really rooting for win the World Cup of soccer, that's only happened three times -- all by the U.S. women. Those three times match the times my favorite team of all favorite teams, the Netherlands' men's soccer team, has lost in the World Cup championship game.
I know, and I have acknowledged this often in blog pieces, that most people here don't care about soccer -- at all. And yet, the U.S.-Japan women's final drew the biggest television audience in the U.S. for any soccer game ever, men or women.
You know why? Because Americans absolutely love winners. If the U.S. men's national team ever wins the World Cup, it will be as big an upset -- and celebration -- as the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" Olympic gold-medal champions.
I'm going to say this right now: As much men's soccer as I have watched all these years, I enjoyed this tournament, and the play of the U.S. women, as much as any I've seen.
(OK, maybe I was a lot more fired up when the Dutch men play great soccer, but I don't enjoy those games as much as I agonize through them.)
Here's what else: The quality of play in this tournament was as good as any men's World Cup I've watched. Seriously.
The women players aren't as fast or as strong -- obviously -- but in my opinion there is no discernible difference in the skill level. The women's teams now play together so well; their passing, dribbling, crosses, corner kicks, field-position discipline and even their headers are right there with the men's game. Their all-out effort tops the men's.
What I liked most is that these teams stayed on the attack, there wasn't all that much buildup offensively (which the men's teams love because they want to show off their quick-passing abilities), and offenses went end-to-end repeatedly.
And, and -- take note here -- the women have only a minimum of flopping and gamesmanship and dirty play that, again my opinion, taint the men's game.
I didn't watch a lot of the Women's World Cup, only the four games the Netherlands team played and each of the U.S. games -- six wins, one tie -- but I thought all of them were exciting ... even if at times there weren't many goals. But that, as you know, is the nature of soccer.
So the U.S. team played one scoreless tie (with Sweden), won twice by 1-0 and twice by 2-0. But that championship game, those five goals -- five -- that routed defending champion Japan were spectacular.
Think about this. It took Carli Lloyd only three minutes to score the game's first goal. That matched the number of goals scored by the winning team in the last two men's World Cup final. Three minutes. It took Spain 116 minutes to score its goal in the 2010 final; it took Germany 113 minutes to score its goal in the 2014 final.
It took Lloyd only two more minutes to score her second goal. And as we all know now, the U.S. had four goals in the first 16 minutes.
And really, in the men's or women's game, have you ever seen a more sensational goal than the one by Lloyd that made it 4-0?
The shot she launched from midfield, a 1-in-1,000 shot that caught the Japanese goalie far out of her goal ("off her line" in soccer parlance) was the dagger that assured it was a great day for Lloyd and the U.S. team. Sure, it was lucky, but Carli's field vision -- spotting the goalie's mistake so quickly -- was brilliant.
There was little that was negative about this Women's World Cup, except ... FIFA.
Soccer's ruling organization, made up mostly of rich men from around the world, is known for its 19th Century vision, rules and customs. We know -- or so all the reports and indictments say -- that its leaders are (1) subject to taking bribes and (2) making themselves very rich.
Yeah, put those future men's World Cup finals in such popular locations as Russia and Qatar. Gee, wonder how that happened? You don't suppose there's payoffs involved?
We also know they are sexists, male chauvinist pigs.
They made things difficult for the women in this tournament, forcing them to play on artificial turf fields in Canada, a much-publicized, much-criticized move. Much tougher on players' legs, much more susceptible to players being injured.
No way -- no way -- the men's teams would be forced to play on artificial turf. They would revolt before that happened; they'd absolutely refuse to play.
But that's not even the most appalling disregard for women. Just follow the money.
The men's World Cup champion, Germany, received $35 million for its soccer federation from the 2014 tournament in Brazil. The U.S. Soccer Federation, and the women, receive $2 million for this championship. Let's see, $35 million and $2 million. Yeah, that's fair.
Certainly the TV rights for the men's tournament generate a great deal more revenue for FIFA than the women's tournament. But couldn't the FIFA people be a little more generous, a little more even-minded?
At least, we know our World Champions received a first for a women's team -- a ticker-tape parade down New York City's famed "Canyon of Heroes." That was a wonderful and fitting tribute Friday.
FIFA could pay New York City's expenses -- and the team -- for that parade, don't you think? I'd say $33 million would do it. Heck, that's probably as much as FIFA's top officials made in their (hush, hush) deal making.
What soccer needs is equality. My solution: Put women in charge of FIFA. I nominate Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Christie Rampone, Alex Morgan, Kelley O'Hara, Lauren Holiday, Tobin Heath, even Hope Solo. Give all 23 U.S. players a spot on the FIFA board.
They know how to get things done the right way. They are winners, and they were fun to watch.