The Thrill and the Agony, This week in sports: The founding sisters

Soccer is probably the sport most played by our country’s youth: it teaches strategy, teamwork, and endurance (as well as encouraging the eating of juicy orange slices). And yet our national attention span remains far too short. By adulthood, we desire quicker gratification, and so we tune into sports with heavier hits and higher scores. We turn to football instead of futbol.

But the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) has seen a steady growth in popularity since its founding in 2001. One reason is that the caliber of play is tremendous. Recently, U.S. women have dominated international women’s soccer. The U.S. team won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999. The eight teams in the WUSA include all of the players from this team; in fact, the league itself was founded by them.

The WUSA attracts top-notch players from around the world – quite distinct from the American men’s pro league. Major League Soccer (MLS) in essence serves as a farm league for its far superior European counterparts, or a dumping ground for those who can’t quite hack it there. And while the U.S. men’s team performed solidly in the 2002 World Cup, few of the players stick around the states for their professional careers.

These women ought to be proud of the league they are forging, and of the fan base that they are building. We were tuned in Aug. 24 as the Washington Freedom claimed the Founders’ Cup III with a dramatic overtime goal to lift them 2-1 over the Atlanta Beat.

Abby Wambach scored both goals for Washington. Her first was a pinpoint header to the lower-left corner of the goal, off of a beautiful cross from Sandra Minnert in the seventh minute. Nearly 90 minutes later, she nailed a left-footed one-timer to the same corner on a similar cross from Jenny Meier. This was the first time Washington defeated Atlanta this season.

“I thought it was behind the net because she didn’t have a great angle,” teammate Jacqui Little said. “All of a sudden I saw the net move and I said, ‘Oh my God. We won.’”

Though the season has concluded, it is not too late for would-be fans. The 2003 Women’s World Cup begins in late September in six host cities: Boston, Columbus, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland, and Washington, D.C. More information can be found at www.fifaworldcup.com and most games can be seen on ESPN2.

The players are ready. Are you?

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