The USWNT played its best game of the Women's World Cup on Friday, defeating China 1–0 in the quarterfinals, and it was no coincidence that performance came the same day of the Supreme Court's historic ruling on marriage equality.
OTTAWA, Ontario — History comes when it comes, and the rest of the time you’re laying the groundwork to get there. Yet that doesn’t mean all the time preparing for the momentous day is worthless. Far from it. In fact, the daily striving is what matters most.
History came to the United States on Friday with the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage across the nation. The U.S. women’s national team is the most prominent sporting symbol of the United States in the year 2015, and the Supreme Court’s decision made this a memorable day not just for the gay players and coaches on the U.S. team but for everyone who’s part of this close-knit group.
“Everybody on our team was super excited and happy about it,” said Abby Wambach after the U.S.’s 1–0 win over China in the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals, setting up a semifinal showdown against Germany. “And to cap it off with a win, moving on to the semis in a World Cup, for me it doesn’t get better.”
They had waited for this day for years. Wambach got married to Sarah Huffman in 2013, in Hawaii, in a celebration attended by dozens of her teammates, past and present. On Friday, Wambach joined teammate Megan Rapinoe, who’s gay, in tweeting out their support for what had taken place.
In fact, Wambach said, the U.S. team had a Supreme Court-themed goal celebration ready for Friday’s game against China. “If we had scored a second one, we were going to give a shout-out to the Supreme Court making the decision that they did,” Wambach said.
During the day on Friday, U.S. Soccer had released its own rainbow-themed tweet of recognition for the decision:
It wasn’t taken lightly by U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who lives in Miami with her wife, Betsy Stephenson, whom she married in 2013, and their daughter, Lily.
“I was actually very honored with what U.S. Soccer put out,” said Ellis, who was born in the United Kingdom but has been a U.S. citizen for decades. “When I saw it, I was very moved. Our players, they’re great role models, and to have that now be something that all of us can embrace, no matter where we live in the country, I think it’s tremendous. It’s a tremendous step for our country, and certainly as somebody who benefits from that I’m extremely pleased for everybody in our nation in the LGBT community.”
An historic day for national equality and something that happens on a sports playing field are nowhere near the same thing, obviously, and it’s certainly not the intention here to equate the Supreme Court’s decision with the U.S.’s pursuit of a World Cup trophy. If Friday’s decision was History with a capital “H,” then winning the U.S.’s first World Cup in 16 years will be history with a lower-case “h.”
But when it comes to that history being pursued by these Americans, Friday will be remembered as a part of the process—a day of laying the groundwork—and not the historic day itself. You need these days, and they’re vitally important, and the U.S. will take added confidence into the semifinals after playing its best game of the tournament so far.
But China, while deserving respect, is not Germany, and in the decades to come we will remember the 2015 Women’s World Cup for what happens on Tuesday in Montreal and, if the U.S. wins, for what happens in the final on July 5 in Vancouver.
This was a happier U.S. team after Friday’s win than the one we’ve seen previously in this World Cup. There were more smiles, more mentions of gaining confidence heading into the Germany game. There was more movement and initiative on both sides of the ball. And some of the players' emotional positivity, Wambach said, was indeed related to the events of earlier in the day in the nation’s capital.
History comes when it comes, and the rest of the time you’re laying the groundwork to get there. When Carli Lloyd, the goal-scorer, was asked what had changed in her game on Friday, her first word seemed appropriate.
“Freedom,” she said.