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Column: How about we enjoy USWNT and this enticing World Cup final vs the Dutch

Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Column: How about we enjoy USWNT and this enticing World Cup final vs the Dutch

It seems as if everyone has an opinion on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.

The three-time World Cup Champions have become a bit of a lightning rod.

People are talking about the USWNT, that’s for sure.  What they’re not really talking about is the actual soccer.

Instead, it’s…

Megan Rapinoe‘s choice of words for our President (or many other topics)

or her pink or purple hair,

or the team celebrating a bit too much when they score 13 goals vs Thailand

or now, the latest, did Alex Morgan go overboard with her sipping tea goal-scoring celebration?

There are a lot of people who think these elite, female athletes are too brash, boorish, cocky, arrogant?

I would prefer to talk about how Morgan went about her business in Tuesday’s semifinal in leading the U.S. past a tough English side to reach the World Cup final in Leon against Netherlands on Sunday.

Just watch the replay of the semifinal match versus England, and you’ll see the amount of punishment Morgan is typically subjected to game in, and game out. She still rose the occasion when it mattered most to score the game’s go-ahead goal.  Morgan took her share of elbows to the face, kicks to the shins and had her jersey tugged numerous times when she tried to get into open space.

Yes, Morgan and her teammates celebrate their goals, and don’t back down. They act like the best team in the world because they are living up to that billing.

People are questioning their patriotism too.

Really?

What makes Megan Rapinoe any different than Muhammad Ali?  Ali took on the establishment too.  In the years that followed his court martial and refusing to serve our country, Ali became a revered American, and was celebrated for taking a stand.

I don’t want to digress, but I hope you get my point.  Rapinoe stands for what she believes, and that’s just fine by me.

She’s authentic. She’s as real as it gets.

Four years ago, those of us who were at Heinz Field to watch the USWNT’s first match after capturing its third World Cup title saw first-hand the influence that this team has on young people, with girls and women and the American public at large,

Where was the outrage when Pittsburgh’s own Meghan Klingenberg had an extended celebration with a Terrible Towel after scoring a goal in the second half of an 8-0 romp over Costa Rica in her hometown?

Klingenberg has special ‘Pittsburgh’ moment as USWNT overpower Costa Rica

Everyone here was loving that. Right?

Especially young women and girls, who made up a very big portion of that record crowd celebrating that moment on that day.

I guess that makes Meghan Klingenberg arrogant too?

Even as Klingenberg’s not been part of the USWNT picture the past couple years, she remains a key voice among group of active and recently retired players who have been as outspoken and been taking action to address topics such as equal pay.

COLUMN: Klingenberg’s persistence, business savvy pay off for USWNT peers

Klingenberg’ has always been at the top of the line to support for Rapinoe, Morgan and all of the current USWNT team members.

What I remember most about the experience when USWNT were in Pittsburgh, and having the chance to interview most of these women that week, was how accessible and likable they were to deal with, even with the extra attention they were getting at that time, coming off winning a World Cup.

Rapinoe,,Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz each provided plenty of time for one-on-one interviews, shared a lot about their experience at the World Cup, spoke frankly about important issues (playing on grass was an issue then) — and were more than happy to provide plenty of good quotes about their unique teammate from Pittsburgh — Klingenberg.

That exhibition match was played before a crowd of 42,028 was the largest ever to watch a soccer in Pittsburgh — and the largest stand-alone audience for a U.S. Women’s friendly match played in the United States. At the time, it was the 10th highest attendance ever (including World Cup and Olympics) for a Women’s soccer in the U.S.

One topic where I always like to steer the conversation, when people start talking about the Women’s team around the water cooler, even if I know I can’t get into an in-depth talk about the actual soccer — is equal pay.

U.S. Women’s national team’s players union reached a new five-year collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer in 2017 after more than a year of contentious labor negotiations. While USMNT and USWNT players are paid per appearance for the national team, most USWNT players also have their salaries in the National Women’s Soccer League paid for by U.S. Soccer, something the USWNT didn’t want to give up.

This March, three months before the Women’s World Cup and on International Women’s Day—28 players felt the responsibility to bring a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer.

According to audited financial statements from the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) obtained by The Wall Street Journal. In 2016, women’s games generated $1.9 million more in revenue than men’s games. From 2016 to 2018, women’s games generated approximately $50.8 million in revenue, compared with $49.9 million for men’s games.

The Journal report notes that the “ability of the women’s team to generate gate revenues that equals or exceeds the men’s team is an important battleground,” and central to the ongoing lawsuit.

These women, who have reached the top of the stage again in their sport, have one non ‘on the field’ issue that I am always on board with — and that’s making sure they get their due and get paid just as much as the men. Of course, that’s not possible for them when playing for professional clubs.

On a National Team side, they should certainly be compensated the same as the men.

“Staying unified and speaking out about what’s right, what’s fair, what’s equitable—those are really important, not only in sports but in women’s history,” Pittsburgh’s own, Klingenberg said a few years ago when this issue was at the forefront.

Women’s soccer has come a long way — and keeps growing. If this Women’s World Cup has shown anything, it’s that the game is starting to take off in Europe now, where the Men’s game has always reigned.

Sunday’s match, is expected to be watched by more than a billion people.

Count me in.

It’s going to be a smorgasbord of soccer going on Sunday. The Women’s World Cup has to share the day with both Copa America (Brazil vs Peru) and CONCACAF (US men vs Mexico) finals.

Somehow, that just doesn’t feel right, — at least on the World Stage. I can understand local soccer, (yeah, the Hounds play Sunday night at Charlotte), having to play a few league games on important weekend dates for the sake of balanced schedules.

Think of it this way. If it were the reverse, and it were the same day of Men’s World Cup final, the Women’s leagues and/or Federations hosting tournaments would probably not play.  It would be nice if the Women’s World Cup would have to stage to its own.

Maybe four years from now, the Gold Cup Final is played on Friday?  Copa America is on Saturday?

And the Women have the spotlight on Sunday.

This Sunday — we’ve got a match that provides some good story lines.

The U.S. will have a challenge against the upstart Dutch, who play a fun, free-flowing brand of soccer.

Can the U.S. win a record fourth World Cup, and be the first Nation to win back-to-back titles? Or, can the Netherlands, which are seeking their first title in only their second tournament appearance, shock the world on European soil?

The U.S. set a frantic pace in the first 30 minutes vs England, and that got them to a 2-1 lead, then Head Coach Jill Ellis pulled things back. It seems as if Ellis’ team has spent the second half of its last three games, all 2–1 wins, in caution mode.

The team’s approach doesn’t project an overabundance of confidence, but cautious and professional. If anything, they’re not playing like an arrogant side at all — but doing what it needs to do to win — especially because they’ve played a gauntlet of teams to get to this final (10th, 11th, 2nd and 4th ranked teams in the World).

Rapinoe and Morgan have carried the scoring load.  Morgan (six goals, three assists) and Rapinoe (five goals, two assists). Ellis has some good problems. She can afford to sit a player like Rapinoe in the semifinal, and know that Christian Press, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd. Mallory Pugh and Morgan can all step up to the plate to lead the attack.

Still, the USWNT have scored every way possible: in open run of play, on corners and free kicks, and have drawn penalty kicks. They’ve won close matches — and yes — a blow out or two.

The Dutch may have never been this far in a World Cup, but they’re the 2017 European Champions. Backed by a sea of Orange, loud and passionate fans, there’s something about this team that’s been special.

They could expose the U.S. back line which was under plenty of pressure from England in the final.

The center backs, Abby Dahlkemper and Becky Sauerbrunn—along with midfielder Julie Ertz, who’s been dropping back much like the way the Riverhounds SC (for those Pittsburgh soccer fans reference) use Thomas Vancaeyezeele, had their share of shaky moments vs England.

The U.S. will have to be aware of where Vivianne Miedema, the Netherlands’ all-time leading scorer, is at all times. That should be a fascinating match-up to watch. If the Dutch over commit — as that’s part of the way they play in getting forward — the U.S. is the one team they haven’t seen yet in this tournament that can make them pay.

My hunch is that Ellis will want her attacking pieces to put the foot on the gas early. The dream start would be something similar to the last World Cup final, when U.S. routed Japan.  If the USWNT score first, they’ll be very difficult to beat.

If Ellis follows the same formula as previous games in this tournament, it could be a tight nail biting final. Most American fans would like to see this team play on the front foot for the full contest.

However, if the Dutch score first, this could be an open, back-and-forth match. Now, that would actually be fun.

Can’t wait to see what happens.

As for all the other stuff, that can wait.

______________________________________________________

 

Where to watch Women’s World Cup Final in Pittsburgh?  

SCHENLEY PARK

There will be a large video screen in Schenley Plaza for the Sunday FIFA Women’s World Cup final between the United States and the Netherlands.

The City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy are hosting a free watch party Sunday morning in Schenley Plaza for the 11 a.m. match.

The event at the Oakland park is free of charge and the Parks Conservancy, Citiparks and the city’s Special Events Office are planning to provide soccer-related activities, games and crafts, food trucks, face painting, noise makers and American flags.

SOUTH SIDE

The American Outlaws, Pittsburgh Chapter, will be setting up shop at Cupka’s Cafe 2 on the South Side. If you plan to get a table or a seat, it’s probably advised that you get there pretty early — or if you’re going to Piper’s Pub early.

Cupka’s will open at 9 a.m.

Rachael McKriger and I will be there for a pre-game show we’ll be hosting on Facebook Live.  Look for more post-game reaction from the South Side too (more details to follow).

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets including Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, and more. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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