Women’s soccer has an interesting history in this country. When Brandi Chastain clinched the World Cup title for the United States in 1999 with her game-winning shot in a penalty kick shootout against China it led to an upsurge of interest in the women’s game. It also led to a lot of questioning of Chastain’s motives when she pulled off her jersey leading many to wonder if Nike hadn’t paid her to advertise its sports bra. Whatever the truth, the lasting image of Chastain’s celebration was that women’s soccer as a popular spectator sport was here to stay.
The problem is that it didn’t happen. In the 13 years since Chastain’s victorious kick, three U.S. women’s professional soccer leagues have bit the dust. Apparently the American public loves the sport when our women compete on the international stage but could care less when it comes to domestic competition.
The men’s game hasn’t exactly caught fire either, but at least its domestic league has survived up until now.
As long as we’re on the subject of soccer and international popularity please allow me to digress for a moment and express my pet peeve about what otherwise is a beautiful sport. How can the world’s most popular competition, the World Cup, allow its championship match to be decided by penalty kicks in case of a tie? That would be like having the World Series decided by a home run competition, or the Super Bowl being determined by field goal attempts. It makes no sense.
The World Cup final should be decided by the “golden goal,” the phrase used for a winning goal in sudden-death overtime. If the sport is worried about the condition of the athletes for a match that goes on endlessly then simply allow unlimited substitution in overtime. If it ends up being the “survival of the fittest,” well, so be it. It would encourage teams to try to score and get rid of the idea of forcing penalty kicks in the hope that your opponent will screw up what should be a sure thing (i.e., making the shot) more than you do.