The summer of soccer is over.
As a soccer fan, it’s been the best of times. There is nothing in sports that compares to the World Cup in soccer, men or women.
This time, the U.S. women repeated as Cup winners, beating the Netherlands in the final, 2-0, and leaving no doubt that they are the best team in the world, with four Cup victories since the start in 1991, and establishing their own hegemony in world soccer.
On the same day, last Sunday, the U.S. men failed to capture the Gold Cup, the top prize in the regional North- and Central American tournament, losing to the archrival, Mexico, 0-1.
The gap between the American women’s and men’s teams widened even further and is now a chasm.
While the American women won every match in the tournament in France, convincingly beating Sweden, Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands -– all strong, well-organized, athletic European power houses, which are closing in on the U.S. lead and threatening its long-term superiority — the American men barely made it to the final in spite of far inferior opponents: Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Curacao, and Jamaica. The Americans won every match, but hardly convincingly, and in the final, Mexico was the better team. The U.S. never really threatened except for a couple of times in the beginning of the match, when, particularly Jozy Altidore, should have scored. After that, they never really caused any serious problems for the Mexicans.
How come this gap? How come this chasm?
Maybe it is simply so that this women’s team consists of superior athletes with a lot of talent, in contrast to the men, with some outstanding exceptions, primarily Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie. But it’s more than that, it’s determination and an incredible will to win. And the women are a team, as one of the team members described it for the New York Times: “The identity of this team is badass women, who fight to the death, who have each other’s back no matter what. The type of person this team attracts is resilient, gritty.”
This is, exactly, what the U.S. men’s team lack. It’s a team reeling after the debacle of losing to Trinidad and Tobago and, thus, not qualifying for the men’s World Cup last year, a team in generational transition, trying to find its way out of the darkness, and finding its own identity. I don’t know if they will succeed and if the new coach Gregg Berhalter is the man to guide them through these difficult times. He is trying and I hope he succeeds, but, so far, his cautious approach, his defensive formations, his unwillingness to throw everything he’s got at the opponent, do not bode well for the future.
Where the women showed speed and creativity and the importance of taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves during the match, the men plodded, slowed down, not, apparently, daring, not taking care of the opportunities. And, so, they lost in another lackluster performance and their days of glory are still far off.
Will those days ever come for the U.S. men? They should, with all the soccer now played all over the United States and with the stadiums full of fans. But it might take many more years. In the meantime, let’s rejoice with the U.S. women — the best women’s soccer team in the world – ever.