A towering World Cup victory for U.S. – and women

Editor’s Note: Amy Bass, a professor of history at the College of New Rochelle, has written widely on the cultural history of sports, including the book “Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete. As the supervisor of NBC’s Olympic Research Room, she is a veteran of eight Olympics, with an Emmy win in 2012. Follow her on Twitter @bassab1. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Story highlights

Amy Bass: U.S. Women's World Cup victory was one for the ages; win made it clear men's team pales in comparison

She says march of the United States toward third title is big deal for U.S. women's sports, a firming up of legacy that Title IX began

CNN  — 

Did you watch it? Did you see it? It. Was. Amazing.

The win by the U.S. Women’s National Team over Japan in the Women’s World Cup final at BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia was – instantly – one for the ages.

Amy Bass

Without question, the seemingly impenetrable U.S. back line – anchored by two-time Golden Glove winner Hope Solo in goal – got the team there, logging 513 shutout minutes en route to the final. But once there, the likes of Carli Lloyd – winner of both the Silver Boot and the Golden Ball – made it fun.

It happened almost too quickly to watch, with Lloyd’s hat-trick, the fastest in Women’s World Cup history, coming in at minutes 3, 5 and 16. She played as if she were in a video game, with her third goal, a long shot taken from midfield, perhaps one of the greatest the game has ever seen.

Lloyd becomes only the second player to score three times in a World Cup final, with England’s Geoff Hurst having done so back in 1966.

This was soccer of the highest order, with set pieces delivering a 5-2 final score, equaling the highest combined score in World Cup finals history.

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U.S. and Japan set for final rematch
01:54 - Source: CNN

A stunned Japan, a team that had given up only 3 goals throughout the entire tournament, one of which had been a penalty kick, answered but never quite caught up. The Americans, it seemed, were destined to run away with it.

In so many ways, this final exemplified what the U.S. Women’s National Team has come to mean on the international sports landscape. When Christie Rampone hit the pitch in the waning minutes of the game, one thing became clear: When it comes to U.S. soccer, it’s time to stop comparing the women to the men.

Obvious reason for this?

The U.S. men’s team pales in comparison to the accomplishments of the women, who have inarguably the greatest women’s soccer program in the world. It solidified that reputation over the career arc of Rampone, at 40 the oldest player in Women’s World Cup history, and the only member of the newly crowned championship squad who saw victory in 1999.

Much has been made about the historic television ratings throughout this Women’s World Cup –and to be sure, the ratings are incredible. But ratings aren’t the whole story.

While America continues to climb out of its soccer apathy, both during the big games on the international stages and on Saturday mornings on local fields, it still lags behind the rest of the world, much of which comes to a screeching halt every four years for a month’s worth of matches.

For the men, that is.

As in most every realm in society, women play second fiddle in the world of soccer. For example, unlike the men, they play on artificial turf. The now embattled head of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, suggested “tighter shorts” might be the way to better popularizing the women’s game. Their paychecks are smaller, and their media coverage lags behind men’s.

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Wambach: More happy that teammate scored than if I had
01:39 - Source: CNN

And when it comes time to put a medal around their necks at BC Place, a group of stunning blondes in tight black dresses and high heels do the honors, undoubtedly grateful that the artificial turf prevents their stilettos from sinking in – as they make clear that women can be objectified just about anywhere, including the soccer pitch.

When the United States beat Norway in the final of the first Women’s World Cup in 1991 in China, it marked a turning point for women’s team sports.

Twelve teams qualified that year, with Sweden and Germany rounding out the final four. Flash forward to what just happened: 24 teams in Canada this time around, eight of whom played in the tournament for the first time, playing 52 matches over the course of a month.

In addition to being the largest women’s sporting event the world has ever seen, the games themselves showed just how quickly the evolution of the women’s game has taken place, and more often than not with very little support. No longer are there a handful of contenders. England finished a surprising third. Cameroon made it to the knockout round. Thailand logged a win. Australia sent Brazil home.

But as the career of Rampone demonstrates, the march of the United States to a third historic title is a big deal for women’s sports in this country, a solidification of the legacy that Title IX began in the early 1970s. At the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, the effects of the legislation began to materialize, with the U.S. women taking gold medals in basketball, softball, and – of course – soccer.

In some ways, the lack of enthusiasm for soccer in the United States has meant that the women’s program has been able to grow without the shadow of a dominant male squad. They haven’t lost an Olympic gold medal since taking silver in Sydney in 2000. They haven’t ever finished out of the top three at the Women’s World Cup.

And now, with this third World Cup crown, they stand alone.

After watching this final, questions regarding America’s soccer apathy should become irrelevant, because if this game, this final, did not get people to watch, then likely nothing will. (And fans of American football who want to complain about soccer’s low-scoring games, in your world this final score would have been 35-14, OK?)

When Abby Wambach, who has the most international goals, men or women, in the history of the game with 183, and Rampone lifted that trophy over their heads, the foundation of women’s sports in the United States got that much stronger.

As one Scott Smith tweeted in the middle of the game: “A sign of societal progress: Wife and two daughters are in the living room watching sports, and I am in the kitchen, barefoot, making a pie.”

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