Is it just me, or does the world seem a little upside down today? Maybe I’ve just watched too many sports movies – Hoosiers, Rudy, Miracle, or take your pick of Sylvester Stallone flicks, Rocky I – IV, Victory. We’ve been conditioned throughout our lives to root for the underdog; the little guy. I know I’ve spent my life rooting for the VCUs, George Masons, and Bemidji States of the world (and anyone playing the New York Yankees). It doesn’t help that Hollywood has dramatized so many moments of the United States filling that role. That makes it hard to reconcile emotionally what happened yesterday in the Women’s World Cup Final. It is made even more difficult by the fact, that despite the USWNT being the number one ranked team in the world (we all know FIFA rankings are joke, but still), the U.S. women had exhibited all the pluckiness, spunk, and fight usually reserved for only the scrappiest of long shots. They were the last team to qualify. They needed a 122nd minute equalizer to avoid defeat against Brazil. Their style had been criticized right and left to the point where many said the best team did not even win their game against France. So it was easy to get the full weight of my spirit behind this team. It was easy to get sucked in and feel emotionally attached to a team that I had no stake in three weeks ago.
But in the aftermath of the U.S.’s defeat, now I feel conflicted. 24 hours ago I was riding high as I watched the U.S. Women play their most technical, attractive, and dominating soccer of the tournament… with nothing to show for it. But when young star-in-the-making Alex Morgan put the U.S. on top in the 69th minute it felt like we were on our way. I say “we” because at this point I was full in – living and dying with every promising cross and wasted finish. When Japan equalized in the 80th minute, it was a blow, but nothing I didn't feel this cast of characters couldn’t overcome. And when Abby Wambach put the U.S. ahead in extra time with another one of her trademark headers, it looked like the Hollywood script was nearly finished. The grizzled veteran, in possibly her last World Cup, scores the game winner to finally achieve the one prize that has eluded her for her entire career. Studios were lining up to buy the rights.
But then the real story happened. Homare Sawa, the grizzled veteran playing in her fifth World Cup, equalized. Ayumi Kaihori put Sylvester Stallone in Victory to shame. And Japan’s young star-in-the-making Saki Kumagai put the game away. It was then that the realization hit me. All the stories and all the stats I had put out of my mind before and during the game all gained terrible clarity. That Japan was still recovering from one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the world. That one of their players, Aya Sameshima, actually worked at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. That Japan had never beaten the U.S. in 25 previous attempts. What does it feel like when in a battle of David vs. Goliath you suddenly realize that your team is Goliath? I feel like the world is trying to tell me I was on the wrong side of this all along. I can argue about which team deserved it more. But I can’t argue that my team lost and the underdogs won. And with that cruel twist, I feel angry and sad and bitter and jealous. But maybe, in this case, that’s okay.