You ever have one of those moments when you think you have solved some huge problem, only to realize you are a complete and utter moron and expelled way too much energy on something that could never be a solution? Yeah, that was me last week with regards to women’s soccer, and let me tell you, it was super embarrassing and outrageously disappointing. But it led me to see an even bigger issue.
Ever since Hope Solo was released from her job as the USWNT goalkeeper I have been on the search for who is going to fill her shoes. Sure, there were the immediate fillers of Alyssa Naeher and Ashlynn Harris, but who was going to be that long term solution – that young blood who was going to be able to hold solid and consistent in the net like the US Team is accustom to having? And yeah, maybe that is a strange thing to focus on, but I love the defensive side of sports. It’s what wins championships.
Well, two weeks ago, when Sky Blue FC played the NC Courage I was sure I had found our girl. I mean, a goalie who is on the losing team, but is essentially the whole highlight reel of the match? That is something I can work with. Oh, and she’s only 21? Perfect! This rookie was playing on the next level. She set a club record for saves in a single game. She went one-on-one against Debinha inside the box and came out victorious. Sure, she needs some polishing, but I’m thinking to myself that Kailen Sheridan is the future. I look at the stats and the facts and I see that she was almost a sleeper pick in the third round of the NWSL draft and I am really starting to get excited. I’m going to call it before anyone else sees it. Because why isn’t anyone in the US talking about this girl? She has some real talent. But then I look her up on social media and my theory on the future comes crumbing down.
I mean, I wasn’t wrong – she is the future…for Canada. Right there, on almost every tweet is the Canadian flag emoji. I know – how daft of me. I am still mentally kicking myself for this personal blunder. And the worst part about it is that everything I have read or seen about this woman is amazingly cool. Like, I wanted to grab a beer with this girl – that’s how cool she seemed. But now I can’t. It’s goes against everything I am as a US Women’s Soccer fan. Right? Because USA v. Canada in women’s soccer is like Yankees/Redsox, or Duke/UNC, or Army/Navy. We love to hate each other. It could be said that as a US Women’s Soccer fan I root for two teams – the good ol’ US of A, and whoever is playing Canada. And I am sure the same thing could be said in reverse for Canadian fans.
But this got me thinking as to why I felt the blow of Kailen Sheridan being Canadian like a punch to the stomach. Why did it feel like someone ripped open a perfectly healed scar? Was it because I had forgotten about this rivalry in my big old American heart? Yeah, I think that is exactly why, and I immediately despised myself for it. This sports rivalry is something that has been engrained in me through time. So why have I not been able to feel it in a while? It’s just been simmering under the surface, waiting to rear its ugly head to the point that the smallest thing set it off – a rookie. But then I realize it’s been simmering for a while – over a year – because US hasn’t had the pleasure of facing our number one rival since February of 2016. And if you’re asking me, I think that is a disservice to not just women’s soccer, but sports in general.
Could you imagine a season where Coach K and the Blue Devils don’t travel to Chapel Hill? How about if they just canceled Redskins v. Dallas for next football season? What if Barcelona didn’t play Real Madrid? The year would be a lot less exciting.
And now that I look at women’s soccer since the Olympics, it has been less exciting on the National level. And sure, some of that has to do with the fact that we have a couple more years until the next World Cup, so the team isn’t getting the publicity that they were back during Rio. But I would like to argue that during this time in between these major competitions we American fans just kind of assume that everything is smooth sailing for the USWNT. We are just going to keep winning until the next major event comes and then we will tune in again, where we will arrogantly believe that we are still the best with no actual knowledge to if we actually are. But hey, who needs to see us beat Trinidad and Tobago? Who cares? We are the US Women’s National Team – these small international teams have nothing on us.
We don’t play any opposing team that we want to defeat with every bone in our American bodies. Maybe the match today against Sweden was a little exciting (lord knows US Soccer promoted it like it was a grudge match), but with a 1:30 PM match time no one working a normal day job could watch it. This last year the women have played formidable teams but no one that pushes a friendly to the next level. Can you tell me who any of the starters are for Panama? Probably not, and we should really work on that. But can you tell me at least one player on the Canada National Team? Sure you can – Christine Sinclair, who loves to make our lives a living hell for 90+ minutes (and now you can also remember Kailen Sheridan as the current 3rd string goalie). And even if you couldn’t name a player on the Candian team you still know in your heart of hearts that no matter what, that is not who you root for. Ever. And, on the flip side, I guarantee Canadians remember Alex Morgan’s name after her 2012 overtime header to advance to the Olympic Finals. And there is no way they would ever chant ‘I BELIVE THAT WE WILL WIN.’
So my question (put not so eloquently), is why don’t we have a real rivalry anymore? US/Canada is the match we actually want to see even when it isn’t for a World Cup or an Olympic medal. It’s a blood bath, as Carli Lloyd would say. It’s high intensity. On one side you have Melissa Tancredi stomping on people’s heads. And on the other side there’s Abby Wambach counting out to the ref on how long the Canadian goalkeeper is holding the ball before a free kick. And that is literally only a small sampling of things that happened in one match back in 2012.
That is the kind of rivalry this is. It’s dirty and messy, but oh so fun to watch. It’s one of those unique moments in sports where you don’t think that things could escalate any more, but then BAM! It does. So why do the fans have to wait so long for it? Why do we almost have to read up on the rivalry before the next match-up to understand why it is that we should care so much? I personally think that it is ridiculous, and poor business practice.
We know that match would sell out. We know those viewers would tune in…even if it is just to see what kind of crazy antics happen on the field, or how the rivalry is taken up another notch. It’s not enough for us fans to only get this type of hype for a game every few years. Frankly, it stinks.
And what makes it worse is that by doing that we are inadvertently holding back women’s sports. Because the USWNT is by far the greatest promoter of women’s sports in the world. And if you would like to disagree with me, I have no probably making that argument all day long. The world is their stage – from the 99ers to present. They are the poster children for women’s equality in regards to sports. And by extension, any team that is their rival becomes the step-poster child. And Canada is the perfect candidate to keep pushing that cause by simply giving the fans what they want to see and playing the game that they love against a team that they loath.
Could you imagine what holding an annual rivalry match between the US and Canada would be like? Can you imagine the smack talk and the bragging rights and grittiness of the game? I can. And man, I would kill for that. And what a platform that would create for women to show their strength and competitiveness and drive. And hey, I’ll even sweeten the pot – what if the proceeds of the match went to charity? Maybe the Susan G. Koleman Foundation or an International women’s charity? That way it’s about more than just the rivalry. Why can’t we have something like that?
I just want a moment once a year that I can sit on the edge of my seat and feel my heart pound in my chest and pray to the heavens that the big man upstairs rocks a red, white, and blue kit on match day. I want the opportunity to know that my team is the best year-in and year-out. And by default, that means I want that opportunity to potentially have my heart broken down the line (most likely by Kailen Sheridan making some ridiculous save that will cause me to think back to last week and once again mentally chastise myself). I want the chance to buy the ticket and scream the chant and to have it matter more than every four years. I want my rivalry.
Is that too much to ask?