Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women Soc(cer) It to Men in America

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women Soc(cer) It to Men in America

Article excerpt

The U.S. women's soccer team is going for the gold at this summer's Olympics. The U.S. men's team is just going.

One's a favorite; the other's . . . well, the host.

Inasmuch as soccer became a popular youth sport for both genders at roughly the same time - the early 1970s - in this country, how can there be such a disparity in expectations for Uncle Sam's foot-ballers?

Call it the way of the world. While soccer - or football, as non-Americans know it - is the world's most popular sport, it isn't necessarily the world's most popular women's sport.

"In the United States, we have a unique situation," said Julie Foudy, a member of the U.S. national team that will play an Olympic warm-up against France on April 26 at St. Louis Soccer Park. "When kids first start to play soccer, it's not just the boys who are (encouraged) to play. It's boys and girls.

"In a lot of countries, there's a cultural bias against girls playing. We've never had that. So we've had sort of a head start in women's soccer. We started earlier and we've been playing longer."

Foudy, a midfielder and four-time All-American from Stanford University, recalled a four-month stint she spent studying in Spain.

"The women were not even allowed to run, much less play soccer," Foudy said. "When we Americans went out and played, they freaked out. It was a machismo thing. Women weren't allowed to play soccer."

But that's changing, Foudy said.

"I definitely see the South America countries improving," she said. "Brazil, which has a world-class men's team, is starting to get better.

"Where I see the biggest improvement is Portugal, which didn't have a team when I started playing. They're getting there."

The U.S. men, Foudy said, are in the reverse situation of their countrywomen. They're playing catch-up to countries that lived and breathed soccer a full half-century before most Americans knew the sport existed.

"In this country, we've got other great sports like football and basketball and baseball," she said. …

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