The USWNT Has Made It To The World Cup Final

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By Karen Valenzuela, @VictoriaNoir89

It has been four years since the last Women’s World Cup. Four years since the U.S. Women’s National Team and their fans back home watched as members of Nadeshiko Japan raised the championship cup over their heads in Germany after the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup final.

On Sunday, these U.S. players whom we have watched struggle, fall, fight, and rise again are going all the way. If they win, there will be three stars over the United States of America crest on that US jersey instead of just two, which represent the titles the team garnered in the 1991 and 1999 World Cups. This will be the single most important accomplishment of a team in the history of women’s sports. The USWNT will be the only women’s team with three World Cup titles.

The U.S. hasn’t plowed through any team in this tournament, and yes, a few of their wins looked a little disconcerting and sometimes scrappy. But they haven’t lost yet (thanks mostly to four brilliant defenders and the #1 goalkeeper in the world), and they’re officially in the final match after soundly defeating the fantastic German women’s national team 2-0 in the semifinal that took place Tuesday in Montreal. They’ve also retained a shut-out streak of 513 minutes so far in this tournament, the second longest in World Cup history. If they win Sunday without conceding a goal, they’ll have broken a world record.

If you haven’t been privy to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup so far, or the U.S.’ opponents, here’s a quick summary:

They’ve played six games so far. In the group stages, they defeated Australia 3-1, tied with Sweden 0-0, and beat Nigeria 1-0, ending up at the top of their group. Then in the Round of 16, they defeated Colombia 2-0 to get into the quarterfinal where they faced China. They beat China 1-0 and moved onto the semifinal against an incredible German team. On Tuesday, they beat Germany 2-0. Their seventh and final match will be against Japan, who defeated England 2-1 on Wednesday to make it to the final.

But why should the U.S. care about this tournament? Why should we care about this team? It’s a sport, like any other sport. Every year, we turn on the Super Bowl, the NBA playoffs, and/or the World Series and stuff our faces with chips, salsa, chili, hot wings, and cute little appetizers that our mom makes from a Barefoot Contessa cookbook (this could just be my mom, though…).

Why should this U.S. Women’s National Team and their triumphs at the World Cup be treated with any more importance than those other championship games and series? Because, my friends, this one only happens once every four years. And it is the single largest and furthest reaching women-only tournament in the history of sports. Imagine a room full of girls who want to become professional athletes someday watching and screaming in pure joy when they see their idols score goals and win on such an incredibly vast stage. Imagine the confidence that instills in them, the drive to be something more, to reach for a goal that might have seemed unattainable for a female athlete even just a few years ago.

Women’s soccer has proven it has an audience—an incredibly loud, massive, and passionate audience. And it has proven that it has as much excitement, intrigue, and inspirational stories—if not more—than other sports that currently receive more attention from U.S. citizens.

We saw Germany’s Alexandra Popp collide heads with USWNT’s Morgan Brian on Tuesday. Popp had blood all over her head and face, but once the German medical staff cleaned her up, she trotted back onto the field to play. We saw Colombia, ranked 28th in the world, beat 3rd ranked France in the group stage. And in the USWNT, we saw a team that, despite a lot of trials and tribulations leading up to the tournament, despite a constant stream of negativity from media directed at the coach and even certain players during the tournament, held onto their unstoppable mentality, resilience, and power. They’re now one game away from winning it all.

U.S. television ratings have seen huge spikes in viewership during this tournament. Millions of U.S. viewers have been watching the 2015 World Cup, and records have been broken and re-broken again. More than 50,000 fans bought tickets to the U.S. versus Germany match, and a majority of those tickets were bought by U.S. fans who carpooled and flew to Canada to support the team. The streets of Montreal after the semifinal win rang with chants of “USA! USA! USA!” This passion has been met by the USWNT at every level, even before the tournament with the #SheBelieves initiative. At the end of every match, the USWNT crowds the stands to take photos with fans and to sign scarves, jerseys, and pictures.

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The passion of this team for the game, for their teammates, and for their fans is absolutely unrivaled by any other team in any other sport. Because this means that much. The World Cup is a significant tournament, not just for women’s soccer, but for women’s sports in general. This tournament will be the platform for women athletes to become household names in America and the world as a whole. We’ve seen an explosion of support in this country for this team: from the multiple USWNT-related hashtags that trended on Twitter for hours on Tuesday before, during, and after the semifinal match, to the large amount of support shown by celebrities and regular folks watching on their TV sets, as documented by BuzzFeed.

Women’s soccer is a game of unadulterated emotions. It isn’t just passion, but determination, heartbreak, and utter elation.

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It isn’t just a sport that these women play. It’s a struggle for many of these women, a fight to be the best in spite of the multiple hurdles ahead that simply don’t exist for male pro athletes. It’s a movement. It isn’t just about the fight against FIFA for giving the women’s tournament second-rate, dangerous surfaces to play on, surfaces that regularly reached 120° F and above throughout the tournament, and shed rubber pellets that ended up causing English goalkeeper Karen Bardsley’s eyes to swell so badly she had to be taken out during the quarterfinal match against Canada last week.

It’s also about the fans and the players pushing to have the women’s game recognized by the world as just as good, if not better, than the men’s game. Yes, we’re a long way from that, and FIFA hasn’t helped the situation any with the massive disparity between prize money for the men’s and women’s tournament: the 2014 Men’s World Cup champions took home $32 million in prize money, compared to the 2015 Women’s World Cup champions, who will receive just $2 million.

When the largest and most powerful sports organization in the world seems indifferent about the movement to have men’s and women’s sports recognized on an equal playing field (literally), it’s up to us—the fans. It’s up to us to prove that women’s soccer isn’t just inspiring the world, it’s also making money. Buy the jerseys and scarves and T-shirts. Buy tickets to the matches. Watch whenever a game is televised.

It’s up to us to show FIFA that women’s soccer isn’t a charity. It’s an invigorating, passionate, beautiful, and yes, sometimes stressful, movement that will continue to grow, which will encourage parity between teams as countries start supporting their women athletes. The competition in this tournament has been incredibly fierce. And the more these women are supported financially and mentally by both their federations and their fans, the competition will only get better in the years to come.

Support your team and watch the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final match in Vancouver, B.C. on Sunday, July 5th. It will air at 4 pm PST (7 pm EST) on your regular FOX channel.

If you’ve enjoyed the World Cup so far, check out the rest of the National Women’s Soccer League season happening right now. Many international stars you’ve seen throughout the tournament will be returning to their club teams to finish out the season.

I’ll see you all on Sunday. GO USA!


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