- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2003

Let’s hear it for women’s soccer. The girls need our support and let’s be honest, they could teach the men a thing or two.

With the loss of the WUSA, which folded last Monday, the Women’s World Cup games around the country this weekend reminded us just what we’ll be missing without a professional women’s league.

It was all quality soccer as the American women beat Sweden 3-1 and Brazil downed South Korea 3-0 before a colorful crowd of more than 34,000 at RFK Stadium yesterday.

And that wasn’t all. The day before, the North Koreans pummeled Nigeria 3-0, Japan crushed Argentina 6-0 and Germany piled on the goals in a 4-1 win over Canada. There was more, but you get the picture.

So far the tournament has been the ideal advertisement for the female game. If this goal-fest can’t resurrect the WUSA what can?

“Whether it does or not, I don’t know,” said Mia Hamm, who put on a vintage performance against the Swedes, earning three assists. “The only thing we can control is our effort and perform the best we can.”

As every fan knows, professional soccer in America is a luxury which must never be taken for granted. Without a pro league it could be awhile before we see this top-level women’s soccer in town again.

Fifty-six women taking part in this World Cup have earned wages playing in the WUSA. America was meant to be the Promised Land for the women’s game — didn’t you see the film “Bend it Like Beckham”? — now it’s looking more like a graveyard.

“Boycott McDonald’s and Nike,” read one big poster in the stands at RFK, attacking the big corporations for not helping the fledgling WUSA.

Asked which she preferred, winning the World Cup or having the WUSA back, American captain Julie Foudy refused to take the bait.

“The World Cup comes every four years, a pro league sustains the game,” Foudy said.

If this World Cup is the last we see of the women’s game it will be a shame.

“Look what the WUSA has done for our players,” said U.S. coach April Heinrichs, almost pleading after yesterday’s match. “We need it.”

There’s something innocent and refreshing about the women’s game. It may be a little slower but you can watch the game unfold. And it keeps moving. There’s no long foul-mouthed dialogues between the players and the referee — well there wasn’t at RFK.

When American goalie Briana Scurry took out the feet from under Swedish star Hanna Ljungberg, sending the 5-foot-3 player into the stratosphere, there was no brawl, no fistfights. Fifteen minutes later Ljungberg was flattened again with a ball to the face. She didn’t roll around on the ground for four minutes milking the injury like the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Carlos Ruiz.

“The coaching in women’s soccer isn’t as cynical, the players aren’t as cynical,” Heinrichs said. “We don’t get chopped and roll seven times. We have so much pride we don’t buy into that.”

Argentina’s Natalia Gatti was red-carded in the game against Japan on Saturday in what seemed a harsh call. Gatti left the field on cue without a whisper, almost apologizing to the world. Imagine what D.C. United’s Hristo Stoitchkov would have done. There’s no need to imagine, he would have started a major temper tantrum.

On Saturday, thanks to Fox Sports World, I watched Birmingham play Leeds in the English Premier League. There was the usual rolling on the ground in agony stuff from spoiled millionaires, complaining and yelling at the ref. Don’t get me wrong, I love the men’s game, it’s just that after you’ve watched five women’s World Cup games in 24 hours you realize how good soccer could be without all the peripheral nonsense that clutters the men’s game.

“It’s a very macho thing to do, all that fighting and shoving. Remember the men have been playing football for 100 years,” said U.S. striker Tiffeny Milbrett. “The pushing and the shoving is more acceptable in the men’s game. If you’re going to let the men play that way, why not the women?”

Is that what the WUSA needed, more macho stuff?

For now, the women’s game reminds me of how the men’s game might have been in more innocent times, or maybe I’ve just been seduced by sirens in shorts. After all, aren’t men from Mars and women from Venus?

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