Jul 14, 2011, 4:25 PM EDT
It’s official: The U.S. women’s soccer team has captured the imagination of the country. And leading the way is goalie Hope Solo, who has bewitched the world’s male population in a way we never thought possible. Shall I dare quote Bill Clinton here? What the heck: It was our former lusty, lecherous President who once said “I still believe in a place called Hope.” And it seems we all do during the Women’s World Cup. But exactly why do we love Hope Solo? Here are some theories:
1. The Amazon Factor. Somewhere in our DNA, just below the basic need to procreate and above the urge to avoid the music of Barry Manilow, is an attraction to the Amazon women of old. According to Greek mythology, the Amazons were a tribe of fierce warrior women who lived near the region of present-day Ukraine. Solo, with her feminine-yet-powerful physique and obvious athletic prowess, appeals to the male need to produce handsome, athletic children, and also to be married to someone who can defend us against muggers.
2. She’s hot, yet wholesome. As has been noted earlier, Solo has been getting a ridiculous amount of marriage proposals since the U.S. win over Brazil, so much so that the hashtag #marrymehopesolo has been trending on Google. But notice that these (mostly) men are not saying that they want to have sex with or simply ogle Ms. Solo … as is the case with Erin Andrews or Anna Kournikova or any number of other hot sports babes in recent years. They’re saying they want to marry her. That’s very different. That’s the kind of commitment you just don’t see from the average besotted frat boys, ink-stained sportswriters and loutish couch potatoes who make up the great majority of American sports fandom. They want to take Hope home to meet their mothers. They want to stay indoors with her and bake banana bread, watch Sex and the City II and (shudder) cuddle. Eventually, there will be youth soccer schedules and fingerpaint art stuck to the refrigerator door with magnets. And that’s unprecedented.
3. The goalie factor. Men are always on offense. In a bar, on a date, at the movies, it doesn’t matter — it’s always a corner kick situation any time we’re with a woman, and the objective at the end of the evening is to hear the announcer scream “Goooooooooaaaaaallllll!” But we also secretly admire a woman who plays hard to get. And who plays better defense than an actual world-class goalie? Sitting in front of our flat screens, watching Solo block shot after shot, has triggered that part of our subconscious that respects one of soccer’s — and dating’s — primary rules: Only the goalie can use her hands.
4. Patriotism. We loved Anna Kournikova, sure … but she’s Russian. As is Maria Kirilenko. But Hope Solo is as American as Burt Reynolds in a Trans Am, and it’s difficult not to salute whenever she’s on camera. OK, maybe I’ll take out that previous sentence.
5. Girls don’t flop. Yep. One of the big reasons that U.S.-type folks give for not liking soccer is the flop factor — when pro players fall to the earth and clutch various body parts without having been touched. But the women don’t do that, or if so, very little. When we see how seriously they take the game, while still refusing to cheat to win, well, see No. 2 above.
Those are my theories. But Jakob of the fine soccer blog Unprofessional Foul has emailed me with a simpler reason that we love Hope Solo. And also why women’s soccer has just taken another giant step forward.
It likely has something to do with her being rather attractive. But, just as in life, beauty isn’t always enough to hold the interest of the male sports fan (save for Anna Kournikova it seems) for much longer than the amount of time it takes to read a blog post with some photo of the female athlete attached to it. For that male sports fan to maintain interest, maybe even continue interest long after the premier women’s soccer tournament has finished, there needs to be great talent and winning associated with the player.
And, Hope Solo has both of those things going for her. She is the best female goalkeeper in the world and as we all know the USWNT continues to win. She is a winner people love a winner.
But, the pulchritude of Hope Solo and any infatuation with her or others on the squad is not going to create new women’s soccer fans. The thing that will generate new fans is the quality of play — the same thing that will create new MLS fans by the way — which has been outstanding in this World Cup. Japan, Sweden, Brazil, France, and the USA have all played excellent soccer from a technical and tactical viewpoint. The games have been a joy to watch for an informed soccer fan as well as newcomers. Great passing, dramatic scores, and lots of shots.
One caveat, though.
This women’s World Cup team, if they win — and they need to win this last game to really progress in the eyes of fans because ultimately you need to win — will be able to capture the hearts and minds of young girls around the country and world once again like the 1999 USWNT. That will surely bring some uptick in fans for women’s soccer that will be vitally important. The next Hope Solo, Alex Morgan or Abby Wambach is out there watching right now, she just needs somebody to look up to.
It also doesn’t hurt when Hope Solo does stuff like this:
There will be a day, in my opinion, when women’s soccer rules the U.S. More and more girls are playing sports every day, and that includes soccer. So that’s going to give us more and more women who watch sports. Add to that the inevitable backlash against showboating and ignorance of fundamentals that we’re seeing in a lot of major men’s sports, and there you have it.
Hope Solo just may change the way all of us watch sports in the future. She already has for me: My chair is much closer to the TV.
Rick’s Cafe Americain appears each Thursday. Contact: Rickchand@gmail.com.
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