- The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team: An American Success Story
Lisi’s descriptive account of the United States’ Women’s Soccer Team traces the evolution of the squad and the program more generally through five World Cup tournaments and four Olympiads since 1991. In examining nearly two decades of history, the author’s aim was to move beyond a specific year or team and focus instead the program’s growth over time. Though not explicitly stated this approach certainly gives the reader a very clear sense of the incredible strength of this team over the years. The U.S. team’s success, on the soccer field, among the world’s elite is unambiguous and astonishing.
Like millions of others in the U.S., Lisi first took notice of elite women’s soccer while working as a reporter covering the 1999 World Cup. As Lisi and the sold-out Giants stadium crowd in New Jersey watched the U.S. team’s opening game of the tournament the author thought to himself that women’s soccer “had finally made it as a sport in the U.S” (p. xiv). Unfortunately, as Lisi acknowledges, despite the intensity with which millions of people throughout the U.S. followed the 1999 World Cup their love affair with women’s elite soccer was fleeting. The World Cup victory, according to the author, “faded away much like the infamous pet rock” (p. xiv). Though a poor choice of metaphor his point is taken nonetheless; women’s elite soccer in the U.S. seemed to disappear from the public’s imagination as quickly as it was noticed. Sadly, over a decade later not much has [End Page 331] changed, despite the U.S. team success over the years. As an example, the latest iteration of women’s professional soccer, the Women’s Professional Soccer league, limps along in its second season barely averaging 3,500 fans per game.
With this in mind, the book’s main accomplishment may be that it brings a story rarely told and barely known to the public, especially young adult readers for whom this book’s descriptive approach and general tone seems best suited. The text highlights not only the team’s journey over the years but individual player’s paths as well through “mini profiles” of nine U.S. team players. In doing so The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team: An American Success Story shines much needed and deserved light on women whose amazing athletic feats are performed in obscurity.
One of the book’s biggest weaknesses is its continual reminder to readers concerning not what the women’s game is, but what it is not: the men’s game. “The games are entertaining,” claims Lisi, “steadily catching up to the level of men’s soccer” (p. xvi). We are too often told that the standard around which females should aspire is male. Michelle Akers’ “bulging biceps and muscular legs were comparable to those of any professional male soccer player,” comments Lisi. Akers’ grit and physical play make her “much tougher than any man” (p. 1). U.S. athletes were not the only ones to whom Lisi’s backhanded compliments were directed. Brazilian athletes, according to the author, “move the ball with a grace and finesse that would have made their male counterparts proud” (p. 103). Such patronizing comments undercut the author’s intended aim to not only highlight women’s elite soccer but to pay respect to their achievements in the process.
The book’s heteronormative position is another flaw found throughout its pages. Heterosexuality is privileged, while homosexuality is erased in the nine “mini-profiles.” Lisi calls attention to the (heterosexual) marriages and the children of three of the nine athletes while remaining silent about the relationship status of the other six women. The fact that heteronormativity and homophobia have been and remain issues in women’s sport makes this error no less significant and may even make it more so. As we...