It sounded, at times, like a Justin Beiber concert.
Well, not that I would know what a Justin Beiber concert sounds like. But it’s how I imagine a Justin Beiber concert would sound, with the squealing and the screeching and the paint-peeling screams.
The U.S. women’s soccer players have a pop-star aura among their fans, creating the kind of swooning devotion that only 12-year-old girls can muster. Seriously, I went to a soccer match Thursday — the Americans beat Canada 3-0 at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland — and a Taylor Lautner appearance broke out.
And that’s a good thing. It’s good for soccer; it’s good for women’s sports; it’s good for the young girls who find inspiration in a remarkable group of athletes.
• Long after the game had ended and long after most of the crowd had filed out, some of the players walked to the south end of the pitch to talk with the assembled media. Which was a great idea except that the interviews were nearly drowned out by the screams from the fans who remained.
“Aaalllllexxxxx! Aaallleeexxxxx! Over here. We love you Alex!,” they yelled at budding star Alex Morgan, who at 22 is not all that far removed from her fan base. And when Morgan began climbing over the 3-foot-high fence that surrounded the field to go sign autographs, all kinds of pandemonium broke out among the fans.
• When goalie Hope Solo, the marquee player on the marquee team in all of U.S. women’s sports, went into the stands after the game to greet friends and family, she was engulfed by her young acolytes.
“Can I get a hug,” one 8-year-old asked before Solo obliged. “I like your show.”
Solo is appearing on “Dancing With the Stars.” We don’t know whether that’s a new high or a new low for the recognition of women’s soccer in this country, but it’s definitely new.
And while you couldn’t help but be in awe of the level of devotion that is afforded the U.S. Women’s National Team, you also couldn’t help but think about how important it is.
The reason for its importance, however, often is lost upon the pundits.
Sure, the squad’s run to the World Cup final two months ago garnered excellent TV ratings, with the title match surpassing the ratings for last year’s World Series. Sure, it led to the inevitable questions about whether soccer can become a major sport in this country.
But the ratings are rather meaningless and the questions are decidedly pointless. No, the importance of the U.S. women’s team can be found in the 10-year-olds who scream for Alex Morgan and the 8-year-olds who want to hug Hope Solo.
It’s not about soccer; it goes beyond that.
It goes to the fact that these athletes are women, not the prepubescent figure skaters and gymnasts who every four years are passed off as the paragons of women’s sports in this country. It goes to the fact that you can be a grown woman — some of them married, some of them mothers — and still be competitive as heck. And it goes to the fact that women can be attractive without being dainty, excelling in a contact sport.
For 12 years now, since the magical World Cup victory of 1999, the U.S. women’s soccer team has at least been on the fringes of the national consciousness, inspiring untold numbers who have grown from screeching fans into confident women.
And I’m guessing that’s a longer shelf life than Justin Beiber will enjoy.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To “like” him on Facebook, search for “Greg Jayne - The Columbian”