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Women’s soccer getting more global? Bring it on

In what seems like another lifetime ago, I used to write about soccer and attended many games. It didn’t pay the bills, but I got to learn about the sport, and about journalism, under some of the best to write about the sport.

But before that, I got my true start following U.S. soccer when I went to my first national team match when the women played Germany in the quarterfinal of the 1999 World Cup at what is now FedEx Field just outside of Washington, D.C.

I’m thinking about this, 20 years later (nearly to the day, by the way) as the U.S. women will take on host France this afternoon in the quarterfinal of this year’s World Cup, with ticket prices for the match reaching the tens of thousands of dollars on the secondary market.

That 1999 match was my first one watching the U.S. women’s national team, and even though I missed part of it due to circumstances I’m about to describe, it was one of the most memorable ones I’ve witnessed — in part or in full.

I remember getting up that morning and leaving my Fredericksburg-area apartment, driving up to the subway, getting on the train and then taking a shuttle bus over to the stadium — which was about a four hour process by itself — to get there about 20 minutes before kickoff.

Alas, I missed the first two goals of the match. The U.S. women went down a goal early due to a Brandi Chastain own-goal, but would tie the game about 11 minutes later. While that was going on, I was going through security at the gate, then walking up the ramps to get to my seat in Row Z of the upper deck, since the stadium did not have escalators at the time. I had a better view outside the stadium than I did inside it, but I digress.

As most who follow U.S. soccer know by now, Chastain would later score in that game to make up for her own-goal. In the final, she made the match-winning penalty kick to give the U.S. the cup before she ripped off her shirt in celebration.

Given my background, I should have torn allegiances, since the U.S. women just beat Spain, and as I mentioned, are playing France. I have lived in the United States all my life, but I have a French last name, and I’m the son of a mother who grew up in Spain.

Still, I’m all-in on the U.S. and look forward to every pulsating moment.

As I advanced in covering soccer in the early 2000s, I got to cover many of the stars of the 1999 team who went on to play in the first iteration of professional women’s soccer with the advent of the WUSA in 2001. And, later on, when I spent time covering youth soccer, I got to see some of this generation’s talent before they went off to college and the pro ranks.

So when I see how the game has advanced in skill level, I’m thankful more people are taking it in. I’ve always had a keen interest in soccer going back to my rec league days, and though I don’t get to watch or attend as many games as I used to, I still haven’t lost the love for the sport.

Having tried to play soccer, I appreciate the skill, talent and hard work that go into it. And being fortunate to see that 1999 World Cup game, as well as the first-ever professional women’s game of the WUSA in 2001, with Mia Hamm and Chastain on the field that day, I’ve been able to see a good bit of sports history unfold in front of me.

In 2003, I got credentialed to cover a few of the women’s World Cup games that were held on the East Coast, giving me more of an appreciation for the international game. So to see countries like China, Brazil, Spain, France and others catching up, and even exceeding, the United States on the field is a good thing for women’s soccer globally.

And how can anyone not be moved by Marta’s message to the women back in her home country, Brazil, telling them, in part, “The women’s game depends on you to survive. So think about that. Value it more. Cry in the beginning so you can smile in the end.”

So if you can get yourself near a TV this afternoon, put on the United States-France game, sit back and enjoy. These are the two best teams in the women’s soccer world, taking on each other in the quarterfinal of the World Cup, and you’re sure to be entertained.