Sports Nut

American Exceptionalism

Why France should root for the USA in the Women’s World Cup.

In advance of Wednesday’s Women’s World Cup semifinal between the United States and France, we’re exchanging some good-natured (and some less good-natured) trash talk with our friends at sister site Below, David Plotz argues that all French people should pay homage to the American women’s soccer team. Elsewhere in Slate,Clément Noël and Grégoire Fleurot of offer four reasons why all Americans should root for France.

The U.S. national soccer team

Dear Readers,

It’s not easy being a French sports fan these days, is it? Your major national sports spectacle, the Tour de France, has degenerated into a black comedy of lying, cheating, and tattling (not that any French rider has a gnat’s hope of winning the race, doped or not). Your men’s national soccer team managed a single goal during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa—the same number of goals as players kicked off the team—before disintegrating into a ludicrous riot of name-calling and recrimination. In the United States, our president and cabinet have better things to do than personally mediate disputes between soccer players and their coach, but I guess that’s part of what makes France so, you know, French.

But now your women’s team has made it all the way to the semifinals of the World Cup. Congratulations for that, though aren’t you a little bit embarrassed that your players posed topless to draw attention to the sport? That seems more like something the German team might do. Oh wait, they did too (link NSFW!).

Still, I’m not here to talk down your players, who seem like a talented and charming group—and such nice skin! I want to explain why you should root for the United States anyway. First, you must acknowledge that if it weren’t for us, there wouldn’t even be a Women’s World Cup. Great that you’re finally letting French girls play soccer, but American girls have been wreaking havoc around the goalmouth for 30 years. (Who were the two best players on my youth soccer team in 1980? Julie Asher and Liza Himmelman.) We invented the women’s game; we popularized it; we showed you how to play it. So pay respect.

Second, you should root for us because our team deserves it more than yours does. Sunday’s quarterfinal match between the USA and Brazil exposed all the fetid nastiness of international soccer: horrible refs, opaque rules, arbitrary enforcement, injury-faking players. Yet the U.S. women overcame the farce. They inspired sports fans all over the world with their under-pressure heroics and indomitable spirit. How could you not pull for a team that triumphs in such a magnificent way? It’s obvious that Fate and Justice are cheering for the stars and stripes to win this World Cup.

Your French team has had a fine little run to the semifinals, a much better streak than anyone expected, or than they really deserve. Do you really want them to stand in the way of America’s Manifest Destiny? I didn’t think so.

A proud graduate of the Marquis de Lafayette Elementary School,
David Plotz