IOWA CITY — A penalty was called on the U.S. in the 84th minute of its Women’s World Cup soccer semifinal against England Tuesday, and the spectators in Joe’s Place were of one mind if different animals.
“Bull (expletive)!” shouted a man watching the match on one of the iconic Iowa City bar’s 12 television screens that were showing it.
“Horse (expletive)!” exclaimed a woman several seats away from the man.
It was a dire moment for the American team and its fans with a penalty kick upcoming. Were England to convert to tie the match with the way it had been going, a U.S. defeat suddenly seemed a more-realistic result.
Then, however, U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher stopped Steph Houghton’s kick, and an eruption of joy was released by Joe’s customers as a bartender rang a bell behind the bar that was perhaps usually saved for last call.
Some of those patrons pounded that bar in glee moments later when England’s Millie Bright was shown her second yellow card of the match and ejected. A good time was had by all when the final whistle blew and the Americans held on for a 2-1 triumph.
“This has been some good stuff,” someone in the bar said after Alex Morgan’s goal off a header in the 31st minute made it 2-1, and it was. There was elation, despair, tension, three terrific goals, some equally fine saves, physicality, and nary a moment to relax over the match’s two hours.
For the off-field political theater surrounding the U.S. team, this was sports theater. Which, of course, is always better.
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It’s just soccer, and no, the majority of Americans aren’t plugged into it. But a lot are, and more all the time.
Seeing a gathering of people on a Tuesday afternoon in July who were female and male, younger and older, wasn’t remarkable in itself. To see strangers, semi-strangers and close friends all pulling for the same thing, however, was kind of uplifting.
It often feels like things either don’t change or they change for the worst. But if young adults out there didn’t already know it, they should be aware there wasn’t always a day when a women’s team of any kind could draw a crowd, let alone have a nation interested in it.
You don’t have to go all that far back in time to remember when the concept of sanctioned soccer being played by boys and girls in Iowa high schools was unimaginable. Hey, some of us can remember when there wasn’t girls’ high school basketball in some of Iowa’s largest cities. Now, our state routinely sends players to college programs across the nation.
Winning matters, of course, and the U.S. has been the world’s foremost powerhouse in women’s soccer with three WWC wins and a shot at a fourth on Sunday.
But it’s winning with skill and style and personality and yes, attitude, that has driven eyeballs to it.
At Joe’s Tuesday, at least two men wearing Chicago Cubs jerseys watched the match from start to finish. Other males wore USA soccer garb. Maybe I read too much into it, but it looked like the match had a lot of meaning to some of the women in the bar.
Iowa City is 4,514 miles from the game’s site of Lyon, France, but that didn’t stop most of the customers from applauding in tribute once the game was over.
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On one small TV screen in the bar, meanwhile, a replay of a Maryland-Penn State game aired on the Big Ten Network. In a Big Ten city, a college football city, the screen might has well have shown a test pattern for all anyone cared.
The game of this day was the one England calls football. The result made U.S. news that didn’t make you want to curl in the fetal position. Sports isn’t everyone’s cup of tea — sorry to pile on, Brits — but don’t you feel bad for the people who never experience them when they’re good?
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