Perfectly Captivating for Their Imperfections
By SAM BORDEN
The United States women’s soccer team is not a Dream Team. It can’t be. After all, Dream Teams don’t have “nightmares,” as Abby Wambach grimly described last summer’s shootout loss to Japan in the World Cup final.
It is strange then how many and how widely the Americans continually captivate. Typically, fans in the United States fall in love with the fresh, new face — think the gymnast Gabby Douglas and the swimmer Missy Franklin — or become obsessed with a team based on dominance and power and might. The Olympic men’s basketball teams are made up of N.B.A. mercenaries, yes, but they are almost always effective mercenaries. They throttle. They pummel. They thump.
The women’s soccer team does not, or at least it has not as often over the past few years. An Olympic team of veterans — only one player was not on the World Cup roster — the Americans are neither new blood nor the types who routinely bloody, and yet they are perhaps the most universally embraced group of Americans playing team sports. ... But what is the greatest allure of the Americans? The attraction, it seems, lies in their flaws. Unlike the basketball Dream Teams and unlike their sporting ancestors, the commanding women’s soccer squads of the 1990s, the current incarnation is gloriously imperfect.
Female soccer embodies many of the most deeply-held values of white American upper middle class families: gender equality; parental (especially paternal) investment in their children; organized practice instead of play; ambitions for college scholarships; tacit race and class segregation via spending; and chauffeuring … lots and lots of chauffeuring.