November 6, 2010
By Charles Cuttone
The morning after the big upset
If a world power falls and there’s no one there to cover it, does it make a noise? The most monumental upset in the history of United States soccer occurred on Friday night and the event went virtually unnoticed.
The U.S. Women’s National Team’s 2-1 loss to Mexico at the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament in Cancun was as big an international upset as this country has ever seen. Bigger than any win by the men’s national team, and that includes the 1950 World Cup stunner over England. Hey, the Brits at that point had never won anything, other than the claim to having invented the sport. This is a U.S. Women’s National Team that has won two World Cup and three Olympic Gold medals.
Now they are in danger of not qualifying for the next World Cup. They need to get past Costa Rica in the third place game on Sunday, and then play Italy in a home and home playoff set.
It’s likely the Americans will get past those two hurdles, but it also was likely they would have gotten past a Mexico side they had never lost to, going into Friday night’s match with a record of 24-0-1.
The U.S. also had never lost a World Cup qualifying game. Not until Friday night. Until the catastrophe in Cancun, they had only lost three games total in World Cup competition, and those were all semifinals.
So what kind of ripple did Friday’s loss make in the U.S.? None. In a quick scan of newspaper websites across the country, only the Philadelphia Inquirer had a three- sentence mention of the game. ESPN.com ran an Associated Press story, as did the San Jose Mercury News and USA Today. No big headlines or feature placement, just a small type headline. The Washington Post’s story was on their soccer blog, rather than news, page. On more than a dozen other sites, not a word. There was no U.S. television coverage of the game, although fans could watch it on CONCACAF’s web site.
A cigarette brand targeted toward women once used the Slogan “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,” a phrase that was co-opted by the Women’s Tennis Tour the brand sponsored. It applies here.
This is no longer the Women’s National Team of Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain. No longer feared by the rest of the world, and no longer unbeatable.
No longer playing to large crowds (witness last month’s 2,500 in Chester, Pa), and certainly no longer making the cover the Sports Illustrated, Time and Newsweek.
Kristine Lilly is the lone link to the glory days, the 35 year-old midfielder coming on mainly as a late game substitute these days, but still capable of making the roster, largely because U.S. coach Pia Sundhage has not found anyone capable of replacing her.
But the U.S. also has not replaced Hamm, Foudy and Chastain. Oh they have bodies to fill the shirts, but not the personalities to fill the stands, and not the legs to run past Mexico.
That, more than anything, is the sad part. Maybe it’s just as well no one noticed.