Wiedmer: World Cup final will have no losers

Wiedmer: World Cup final will have no losers

July 17th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

At 2 this afternoon, the Lee University women's soccer camp was supposed to be in the middle of registering 300 high school girls. However, all that changed a few days ago when the United States knocked off France in the FIFA Women's World Cup semifinals, setting the stage for today's final against Japan.

The game will be televised at 2 p.m. EDT.

"We went to Matt [Yelton, Lee's coach] and told him we needed to make new plans," said Lee senior Jamie Achten, the reigning NAIA national player of the year, who led the Lady Flames to their third straight national title last fall. "We told him we had to watch it."

Would a revolt have ensued if Yelton had said no?

"Probably," Acthen said with a laugh. "Especially with the staff."

A lot of plans have no doubt gotten changed over this Red, White and Blue soccer team. Figured to do no better than repeat its disappointing semifinal losses in 2003 and '07, the U.S. instead enters today's game as the betting favorite to claim an unprecedented third women's World Cup crown.

The rest of the world likely will not be pulling for the Americans. Having watched so much of Japan torn asunder by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami on March 11, most of the globe will be rooting for the underdog.

And there's nothing wrong with that. As former McCallie and Girls Preparatory School coach Steve George noted Saturday, "It kind of reminds me of when everyone was rooting for the [New Orleans] Saints after Katrina. You just want to see something happen to help them take their minds off their problems for a little while."

Not that George is pulling for the Land of the Rising Sun. In fact, he got so upset with the officiating in the United States' stunning quarterfinal win over Brazil that he turned it off before Abby Wambach's header tied it and Ali Krieger's penalty kick won it.

"I just felt something bad was about to happen," he said. "Instead, I think it brought so many people on board. This team has pulled itself from the brink of disaster so many times. I just hope they're not reading the headlines before this game against Japan."

The headlines really began for U.S. women's soccer in 1999, when Brandi Chastain kicked the World Cup-clinching penalty kick against China inside the Rose Bowl, then ripped off her jersey to reveal her black sports bra.

Almost instantly it became one of American sports' most enduring images, as memorable as Christian Laettner's buzzer-beating jumper, San Francisco 49er Dwight Clark's "Catch" against Dallas or the Miracle on Ice.

"I was just a little kid then," said Achten, who grew up in Franklin, Tenn. "But I'll never forget it. Now I'm just hoping this team can have the same result that one did."

The U.S. hasn't had that same result since, which George believes shows that the rest of the world is catching up to American women's soccer in much the same way the U.S. men are gradually catching up to the rest of the world in the sport often called the beautiful game.

"Title IX changed everything," George said. "It applies to all women's sports, but when it first started (1972) there were very few women's teams worldwide. Soccer was basically all men. That gave us a big advantage."

George believes two other factors also help the women on the world stage, though he appreciated neither until the McCallie coach of 24 years pulled double duty at GPS for five seasons.

"The girls are more willing to learn," he said. "I remember trying to get players to change their fundamentals at McCallie and they would often resist me. The girls were just the opposite. They were willing to trust me, to do what I asked of them to help them improve."

But it wasn't just their attitude toward coaching that impressed George.

"Women seem to be less worried about the competitive side," he said. "I don't mean they're not competitive; they obviously want to win, too. But they seem more inclined to respect each other. They're more about developing relationships with teammates. Their games don't seem to take on the negative aspect of trying not to lose.

"That's one thing I admire about both Japan and the United States: They have that wonderful esprit de corps. They seem to genuinely care about each other. And they both play a very beautiful game."

Unfortunately, one of these two beautiful teams must leave Germany today as a runner-up. But if it's the United States that falls short, at least the rest of the world will celebrate its conqueror for the right reasons.