Dear Fellow Marylanders,
We should all be proud of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) that represented our nation at the 2023 FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Each one of the 23 women who were a part of the team trained hard and played hard. Is it disappointing that they didn’t make it further in the tournament? Of course. That should not diminish our pride in how the team – collectively and as individuals – represented our nation in this tournament and have been raising the bar for women’s sports match after match and year after year.
Americans love to win. We expect to win. Heck, all fans love to see their team – whatever sport – win as much as possible. The reality is that we as fans set some pretty unrealistic expectations for the U.S. women’s soccer team. I have no doubt that the players are even more upset with the missed penalty kicks and loss in the Round of 16 because they shared those expectations. It took a video assistant referee (VAR) to call the final Swedish penalty kick was in by a millimeter. A millimeter!
Let’s put it all in perspective. This is only the ninth FIFA Women’s World Cup ever. Of the last eight, the U.S. team has won four, including the last two in 2015 and 2019. Talk about pressure on our 2023 women. That said, no team – men’s or women’s – has EVER won three world cup titles in a row. None. And the men have been battling out for a FIFA championship since 1930. I wanted to see the U.S. women go all the way again, but to say the loss was “shocking and totally unexpected” ignores more than 90 years of soccer precedent.
We weren’t alone in exiting the tournament earlier than expected. The U.S. women made it to the knockout rounds and played their heart out all the way through full time, overtime, and extended penalty kicks. Second-ranked Germany, which has won two of the eight previous FIFA Women’s World Cup championships, didn’t make it past the group stage. Reigning Olympic Gold-Medal Team Canada and Brazil, who may have the greatest women’s player of all time, also failed to make it to the Round of 16.
For the record, these players are role models for young girls and boys on the pitch and off. They clearly understand the weight that comes from officially representing the United States of America. First, they show a dedication to the game and their team. Second, using their given platform to advocate for America to fulfill its promise of equality and opportunity for all is a positive to be celebrated. We all want our nation to fulfill its potential and be the very best it can be, right?
Let me get back to how American women soccer players have been raising the bar around the globe. Not only have the U.S. women fought and won the right for better pay equity with the U.S. men’s team, they also are fighting for equality on a world stage where the 2023 Women’s World Cup players will earn an average of $0.25 for every dollar earned by men at the 2022 World Cup, according to a CNN analysis. This is significant progress, as the 2019 women players only earned $0.08 cents vs. the men.
On the pitch, a heavy American presence is indisputable. Of the 23 women on the Philippines national team, 18 are Americans – including Marylander Sofia Harrison. FOX Sports reports that Jamaica has 11 Americans, Haiti has five and Nigeria has four. The Netherlands, Canada, Argentina, Colombia, Switzerland, Panama, South Korea and host-nation New Zealand also have Americans on their teams. As analyst Alexi Lalas said, “You have to take pride in this American women’s soccer ecosystem that has evolved that produces strong players who are now making other nations better. It is logical that it would manifest in this way.”
Sadly, some public figures have felt the need to disparage the USWNT with absurd attempts to link their tournament outcome with a raft of political issues. The sort of vitriol we’ve seen is inappropriate and embarrassing at best, and sexist, homophobic, and just plain ugly at worst. When the U.S. men’s national soccer team didn’t qualify for nine FIFA World Cup tournaments in a row, did we use their performance to launch political attacks? And what about the other teams that also suffered defeats and had to exit the tournament earlier than they had hoped? The women players on those teams also are role models and an inspiration for boys and girls in their home countries and around the world. I can assure you that they were spared the derision of former presidents saying their team lost because the players hate their country.
As Meg Linehan of The Athletic wrote, “We could be talking about all of the many reasons why the USWNT failed; the actual soccer that was played, coaching mistakes, or larger systemic issues that will need to be addressed … Becoming too ‘woke,’ whatever that means, certainly didn’t hurt them this time, just as it didn’t help them when they won in 2019, or even in 2015.”
My granddaughters are in college and beyond now, but I will always cherish the memories of attending their soccer and lacrosse games and cheering from the sidelines. Watching women play at the highest level of sport is a privilege that we in the United States don’t appreciate as much as we should. Title IX and other programs helped lay the foundation. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), and Women’s National Basketball League (WNBA), are seeing great growth in both talent and audience. Gifted players like the members of the 2023 U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team ensure that we keep building on that legacy. I have no doubt that our U.S. soccer team will win their fifth World Cup championship in the future – tying the Brazilian men for the most FIFA titles ever. Win or lose, I will keep cheering and I hope you will too.
Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this or any other topic. I appreciate all the comments and observations we receive.