Yesterday, 93,000 fans filled the Rose Bowl for the Gold Cup final between the United States and Mexico. It was no surprise that these two made the final; they are clearly the class of CONCACAF, and in the 11 times the tournament has been run under its current structure, one of the two has been the champion 10 times. Mexico triumphed, 4-2 (coincidentally, earlier the Giants had won their game 1-0 … when it comes to scoring, the World Series champs tend to have the kinds of scores people associate with soccer), and the Americans have no need to hang their heads … this Mexican squad is one of their best in a long time. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is the most exciting player to come out of the region since, I don’t know, Landon Donovan? The current team is based on speed, and it was appropriate that the final mind-boggling goal came from Giovani dos Santos. Gio was kinda the Chicharito of his day, except he’s a year younger than Hernandez so that doesn’t really make sense. When he first emerged on the world stage, I was extremely impressed, and yet for some reason I felt like he’d disappointed since then, even though he’s had a reasonable start to his European club career, and played well in the last World Cup. Yesterday, his speed was impossible to stop, and while I was rooting for the U.S., it was hard not to admire Gio’s play, as well as that of his teammates. The match was excellent, and got attention around the globe.
Today, the Women’s World Cup began. I think the last time that many people showed up at the Rose Bowl for a soccer match was for the Women’s World Cup final in 1999. It’s easy to forget how long ago that was. The U.S. players who captured the fancy of American fans have moved on, many to commentary roles on broadcasts for the current tourney. I don’t think many Americans realize that the U.S. is not the favorite this time around … they haven’t won it since that magical 1999. The Germans are the titans of women’s soccer now, and they are also the hosts for the 2011 Cup, which makes them the favorites. In the second of today’s opening matches, Germany defeated a surprisingly tough Canadian team, 2-1. While the women’s game isn’t as fast as the men’s, there is perhaps room for more tactical play as a result, and there is no denying the skills of the world’s best players. But it’s hard to find out any of this … women’s sports in general are largely ignored, and outside of some hubbub if the U.S. manages to win it all, I doubt this will change.
Still, ESPN is showing every match in one format or another, which is another step in the remarkable surge of soccer availability in this country since the days when all we got were highlights of a week-old German match on public television. The tournament also gives me an excuse to tout the work of Jennifer Doyle. Doyle, an English professor at UC Riverside, has a must-read blog, From a Left Wing, that is best described by its subtitle, “Soccer & Sports Polemics.” She also has a gig for the World Cup writing for the Fox Soccer web site, and she is pulling no punches (her most recent piece, “FIFA treats women’s game as a burden” is right on target). I look forward to following Doyle as the Cup progresses.