Breakthrough moment for women’s soccer? Nah – they “broke through” a long time ago

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Any long, tall and refreshing drink of women’s soccer success in the United States gets chased with a splash of cliché queries. Two questions are as inevitable as a goal kick after a well-wide shot:

  • What will this volley of success do for women’s soccer here?
  • Will it facilitate the development of a women’s professional league here?

On the first issue, I’ll get to the bottom line fast:

It won’t do much. And I mean that in a very positive way for women’s soccer.

I feel strongly about this: We are past the point where these glorious moments for U.S. women’s soccer are true game-changers. They are moments to be celebrated, of course. But they aren’t moments that will significantly elevate the profile of women’s soccer here. They’ll nudge it forward a little more, but we are past the time of momentous breakthroughs – and that’s all a testament to how far the game has come.

Think of it like this: once you’ve tasted ice cream, you know you love ice cream! You might renew your vows, re-asserting your adoration of Chunky Monkey or whatever, but you can only have that moment once.

By definition, we can only “break through” so many times. The original breakthrough domestic women’s soccer moment, of course, was The Girls of Summer swim through the Women’s World Cup in 1999. Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Michelle Akers, Carla Overbeck and the rest ensconced themselves splendidly as the nation’s sporting darlings. They hit all the right notes in the greater sports continuum, raising the profile of soccer and women’s athletics all at once.

It helped, of course, that the 1999 WWC was here, arranging the stage just so for maximum, heroic exposure.

From there, subsequent tournament success created moments to remember, whether it was about claiming Olympic gold or those stirring comebacks along the way in the Women’s World Cup chase. (Abby Wambach at the far post in the dying seconds against Brazil? Yeah, I’ve YouTubed that one a few times since, getting all goose bumpy every time at Ian Darke’s amazing call.)

So each new launch of summer soccer awareness surely moved the sport forward. Olympic gold in Beijing? Long, slow applause for you ladies! Well done.

Big, brave stab at glory in Germany at last year’s Women’s World Cup, undone only by a team of destiny from Japan? We held the U.S. players in highest regard, feting and lauding them no less for falling one match short.

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This time around, Pia Sundhage’s ladies were perfect in a 6-0-0 dash for gold medal glory in and around London. Three golds in a row? Are you kidding me? Truly a historic achievement.

But did those moments change the game? Not much. They’ve arrived already. Again, how many grand entrances can you make?

Everyone does realize that a 12-year-old who watched in wide-eyed wonder in 1999 is now 25 years old, with a career and possibly kids of their own, right? We know what women’s soccer is in our land – and it is grand!

What 2012 gold does mean: This new generation of talent has climbed steadily from the shadow of the 99ers (Hamm, Chastain, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Brianna Scurry, etc.) Alex Morgan will be the new Mia Hamm. She’s bound for Hall of Fame levels of marketing exposure.

Hope Solo’s athletic, skillful moments will allow her to dodge most public scrutiny from her Mean Girls moment, those unnecessary and distracting Twitter rants.

Abby Wambach’s legend grows taller and Megan Rapinoe begins to take her place among the giants of U.S. women’s soccer. Carli Lloyd’s drive and Tobin Heath’s technical grace isn’t lost on anyone paying attention.

We should talk about these championships on their own merit, for the accomplishment at team and individual level. What does it mean for women’s soccer?

Let me answer a question with a question: What will a gold medal in men’s basketball mean for men’s basketball in this country?

I doubt anybody is asking that, because it’s a goofy and irrelevant question. Well, same deal.

Soccer in the United States, and women’s soccer in particular, is past that.

(As for what the latest events mean for the potential development of a women’s pro league, we’ll visit about that one tomorrow.)

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.