Hope of a nation

Not long ago I wrote about my frustrations with how the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team was performing on the world stage. Yesterday, I watched the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) play against Brazil in the Quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup.

Frustration just got punched away by Hope.

Hope Solo is the statuesque goalkeeper of the U.S. squad, whose gaze can make even the strongest of people quiver in awe. (I mean, I guess.) Her clutch save in the Penalty Kick round enabled the U.S. to defeat Brazil in improbable fashion and advance to the Semi-finals against France.

Has there ever been a better sports name than Hope Solo?

  • First of all. She’s a goalie. She hangs out back there by herself for a lot of the match. And when it came down to the decisive part of the contest, it was just her that stood between Brazil and the next round. She was Hope Solo, flying solo. This is the equivalent of a baseball catcher having the last name Squat, a basketball forward having the last name Wing, or a football center having the last name Bentoverwithapairofhandsundermybackside (it’s a Native American athlete).
  • Second, it sounds like what Han Solo and Princess Leia might have named their baby if they ever had children. Think about it. She grows up playing with Ewoks, “flying” the Millenium Falcon in her Daddy’s lap, and shooting toy laser guns in a galaxy far, far, away. And then as a teenager, her parents send her to the Milky Way because the soccer programs on Endor aren’t that great. I mean, the way she plays goalie is out of this world.
  • Third, and most important, hope is exactly what the U.S. team needed on Sunday. They were playing a person down (side rant: every commentator was using the term “playing a man down” when describing the situation the USWNT faced when one of the players received a Red Card about 15 minutes into the second half and had to leave the game, forcing them to play the rest of the game with ten players to Brazil’s eleven. Even the female commentators were saying, “man down.” All of the progress we’ve made towards equality, and there was Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy saying, “man down” over and over again. Shouldn’t it have been “woman down” or “person down?” I started to feel like Steve Martin’s character in Father of the Bride when he said to his wife, “why must I be the only feminist in this house?”). They were behind by a goal in the extra time. They were still down by a goal when it came to stoppage time. No goal had been scored that late in a game in the history of the Women’s World Cup. Indeed, hope was all that they had left.  Well, that and Abby Wambach.

She’s the woman who delivered the latest goal in Women’s World Cup history, on a header that touched the back net in the 122nd minute of play, sending the game to Penalty Kicks. The U.S., facing elimination, down to what would be their final possession, found a way.

I’m pretty sure Wambach means “winner” in some language. The Rochester-born, Mia Hamm disciple has been a part of the USWNT since 2003. She’s been awarded U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year four times in that span, and scored the game-winning goal in the Gold Medal game of the 2004 Summer Olympics (against Brazil).

Or maybe Wambach means “warrior.” There’s no other way to describe the way she plays the game. She leads, she battles, she works hard, she runs, until the decisive moment arrives. And then she buries a dagger into the heart of the opponent.

Watching the hope that the USNWT played with yesterday, I couldn’t help feeling like they were showing the U.S. Men’s National Team the way the Beautiful Game needs to be played. Not technically flawless by any stretch, and not even relying on having the best athletes in the world (or on the field, for that matter. Yesterday, that distinction belonged to Brazil’s Marta. The 5-time World Player of the Year). But playing with confidence, with courage, and with belief that no matter how desperate the situation seems, victory is still inevitable.

When Abby Wambach’s improbable goal tied the game, I sprang up from my seat and danced around the living room, shouting with joy. My 7-year old daughter was intrigued by my behavior, and came over to see what had produced such excitement in her Daddy. She sat down right next to me (well, not really next to me, more like attached to me), and we began to watch the Penalty Kick round together. As it all unfolded, she held her hand up for a high five after every U.S. Penalty Kick found the net. She has never seen a soccer game before in her life, but she sat there and watched the whole final round with me.

I’m sure she was watching it because she could see how important it was to me. But I like to think that part of her was intrigued because it was women playing the game. And I was so grateful that these women were showing her a glowing example of what it means to live life with determination, heart, and passion.

I want my daughter to live that way. I want her to be a winner. I want her to be a warrior. I want her to continue the fight for equality. I want her to believe, even when believing seems foolish. I want her to come through in the clutch.

I want her gaze to scare men.

I want her to be strong and confident, even when she feels that she’s all alone, and when she’s the only thing standing in the way of the Enemy’s success. I want her to lead. I want her to battle. I want her to work hard. I want her to live up to her name.

That’s my hope.

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