American Soccer's Better Half

By Starr, Mark | Newsweek, June 5, 1995 | Go to article overview

American Soccer's Better Half


Starr, Mark, Newsweek


WHEN THE UNITED STATES HOSTED the World Cup, a single refrain became the conventional wisdom on American soccer: the home team still lags behind the sport's international elite. But that's a sexist canard. While the U.S. men's team is decidedly second-rank, its national women's team is the reigning world champion and once again a favorite when the women's World Cup begins next week in Sweden. "To keep hearing people put down American soccer is really frustrating--and tees me off," said star forward Michelle Akers, after leading the U.S. women to recent back-to-back drubbings of soccer giant Brazil.

The women's team may not have been able to draw on a great national soccer tradition. But it wasn't inhibited by a macho culture like those that dominate the Mediterranean and Latin American soccer powers. When the U.S. women's team first took the field 10 years ago, it tapped into its pool of college talent to become an instant world power. Its record is now 78 wins, just 26 losses and 7 ties. "In a lot of countries they can't believe women are actually playing soccer," says U.S. captain Carla Overbeck. "Yet they still can't believe American women are beating their women."

Even the American players were surprised by the scale of their success. The team was a part-time affair, its players college kids and recent graduates scrambling to squeeze international soccer into their schedules between classes and real-life jobs. But at the inaugural World Cup in China in 1991, the United States swept six matches, including a 2-1 victory over Norway before 65,000 spectators in the final.

Though the men's game has evolved (or degenerated, some would say) into a chess match between coaches, emphasizing defensive tactics and brute physical play, the women's game still celebrates offense. And no team attacks more relentlessly than the Americans. "They go for the jugular," says the U.S. Soccer Federation's Hank Steinbrecher. In qualifying for the '95 World Cup, they scored 36 goals in four games. "Some people criticize us when we win by scores like 8-0, but that's our trademark--to never stop attacking," says Julie Foudy, one of nine '91 veterans on the 20-woman squad. …

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