Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Beautiful Game: The Other Reason We Watch

Editor’s Note: We continue with yet another random, new series on the Free Beer Movement. Soccer fans come in all shapes, colors, and sizes and how they became fans of the sport are as diverse as they are. While most of us are engrossed in the on-field action, the tactics, the drama…. for many it is more personal, more intimate.

Introducing “The Beautiful Game” a series that focuses on the lighter side, the more attractive side of soccer. Don’t worry we’re not trying to become “Kickette”, but, in our ever-expanding quest to cover the cultural side of the sport its hard to look past a pretty face. Our contributor Amanda will be serving up soccer’s best specimens from both sexes with a wit that only she can provide.

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And we’re back for the second installment of The Beautiful Game! Since this column started off with a look at some old-school Men’s National Team players (deathmatch-style, but still, a look), this time we’re turning the tables and checking out the ladies. (Note: this column is written by a straight girl, but we’re equal-opportunity when it comes to aesthetic appreciation.) And again, we’re going back in time, to appreciate the World Cup-winning 1999 Women’s National Team. And don’t worry, I’m not virtually killing anyone this week.

First up, Kristine Lilly. This woman is amazing. She’s been a player on the WNT for four decades, starting at the very beginning of the program in 1987, when she was in high school, and only retiring last year. She was playing on the WNT before some of her most recent teammates (like Alex Morgan) were even born. She’s played in every Women’s World Cup so far and set the all-time caps record for any national team player – yeah, ANY national team player. Any country, regardless of gender. Kristine Lilly beats them all. And with 352 caps, I’d guess her record is gonna stand for a long time. Basically, I have a total girlcrush on Kristine Lilly, and I hope she comes back to the game in some capacity soon. Though maybe not on the field, because as much as I love her, she probably needs a break, and the WNT definitely needs some new blood.

Next, Mia Hamm. Even though she retired in 2004, I would still bet you money that if you asked an average American to name a soccer player, she’d be one of the first mentioned. She holds the all-time scoring record for a national team player – again, like Kristine Lilly, when I say “all-time,” I mean more than any other player in the recorded history of soccer. I’m trying to come up with analogies to other players and other sports, but I’m getting a little stuck, because so few players have so completely dominated their sport in the way Mia Hamm did. Maybe Michael Jordan? Oh, wait. Nike totally got there ahead of me.

Seven years after her retirement, Mia Hamm is still in a lot of ways the face of women’s soccer in America. Which is amazing, considering that she’s mostly been focusing on her charity and raising her family since then. But when you’re probably the all-time best player in your sport (and pretty darn cute as well), that’s what happens, I guess.

Finally: Brandi Chastain. Yes, this is basically just an excuse to run this picture. Not that Brandi Chastain doesn’t deserve inclusion in this post all on her own merits, but y’all, I love this picture. I wish this were the title image for this whole series. I love the expression on her face, and the muscles in her arms, and just the sheer joy that shows through everything here. This is a beautiful picture, to me, not because of the whole sports-bra issue, but because of everything that’s represented. The years of work from every woman on the field, the luck of winning a shootout, and the elation that comes when it’s your kick that did it. I wasn’t a soccer fan in 1999 when this game happened, but I watched it anyway. And it probably has something to do with why I’m a fan today. Moments like these are what keep you coming back.

Meet Amanda

I’m a lawyer in South Texas, a.k.a. the middle of nowhere. I drive three hours each way to attend all the Dynamo home games I can, and that’s only partially because standing with Texian Army gives me a
great view of Tally Hall from behind. Hot players are a bonus, but I’d love the game even if they all looked like Carlos Tevez (the women too). You can find me on The Girls in the Cheap Seats, talking about the American game as part of a rotating cast of smart female fans. I post my own nonsense over at Needs More Kittens,and tweet more than I should here.

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Nick said…

I recall watching the semi-final of the 1999 World Cup against Norway in a Hotel in Oslo, Norway. After we won, we snuck up on the roof and celebrated into the wee hours of the Oslo night.

Winning the 99 WC seemed inevitable (like the Miracle on Ice was, for all intents, the 1980 Olympic Gold Medal match even though it was a semi-final) and going to PKs made it much more nerve wracking than I would've preferred. However, it produced that shot, that moment which still has uninitiated into the Beautiful game talking about it.

My baby girl is just a week away from gracing us with her presence and I can't think of any better sports role models for her than these three.

Lisa said…

Nothing wrong with a little Kickette-style action! And looking back is a handy reminder of how far the sport has come in the country for both men and women. I was at the 1999 WWC semi-final at Stanford Stadium, and practically no one stayed for the MLS game immediately following (I certainly did not – MLS fandom didn't get me until the following year, despite the best efforts of hapless players like Harut Karapetyan to ensure otherwise).

I wouldn't say we're now in a position where the opposite is the case, but interest overall seems to have shifted to the men's side; here's hoping WPS keeps things going on the distaff side.

Liz said…

Nice post! A couple other forgotten greats that are on par with these ladies are Michelle Akers and my personal soccer idol from childhood, Carla Overbeck. Overbeck was the key defensive player holding down the middle during the USWNT's dominance. Her presence allowed the USWNT to play their trademark formation from the era (3 centrally collapsed midfielders, sending their outside backs forward like outside mids). Not to mention that in the year she took off to have her baby, she continued to have a team presence and work out like a maniac so she could rejoin the team as soon as possible. She was doing full squat workouts the day before she delivered. Bad. Ass.

stevishabitat said…

I had just graduated from high school in 1999, and was recovering from a knee injury that pretty much squashed any soccer dreams for the future. I spent the summer traveling, but I was home the weekend of the World Cup Final. I watched the game on the edge of my seat, and I don't remember if I screamed or cried at the winning moment. But I did take a poster of that iconic image with me to university. Seeing it anywhere still stirs up deep emotion in me. There is a beauty there, and a guttural human connection to Brandi's uninhibited reaction to hard-earned success coupled with amazing good luck. It was a moment of great triumph, not only for the USWNT, but for women's sport and U.S. soccer in general because of the attention it attracted. It's one of those important moments I will tell my children about.

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