Why Canadian Soccer Gold is the best possible result for women’s soccer
Canada’s national women’s soccer team faced Sweden for 120 minutes of play and six rounds of penalties on Friday to win their first Olympic gold with a score of 3-2. It has been a long time coming. After winning back-to-back bronze medals in 2012 and 2016 and suffering a surprising loss to the United States in the semifinals in London, the sport’s weakest superpower finally has championship gear.
If today’s result was a shock, you might not have paid attention. Canada and Sweden have spent the past two weeks delivering stellar performances after stellar performances, playing the best soccer of their careers and ruthlessly punishing anyone who failed to do the same. No one else has done both, including big names like the Netherlands and the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT), which were set to win big. The Netherlands, 2019 World Cup finalists, scored 23 goals during the tournament but couldn’t beat the United States to advance to the semi-finals. And for its part, the USWNT did not look like the most successful team in the history of women’s football. They just didn’t play as well as their opponents, so they lost their chance for gold and instead took bronze.
But it is a good thing. International women’s football tournaments have only been around for about 30 years, and at that time few teams have significantly or consistently challenged the United States. (I would know – I grew up idolizing the USWNT and have obsessively watched just about every game they’ve played since the 1996 Olympics.) Nowhere is this more evident than ‘ games. The 2020 Olympics are only the seventh to feature women’s football, and the United States has won a medal in six of them: four gold, one silver and now one bronze.
As impressive as it is, the USWNT’s largely undisputed dominance isn’t as positive as it initially looks: it’s actually bad for players, fans, and the sport in general. An imbalanced field can indicate that one program is getting many more resources, investments and opportunities than the others, which is not only unfair, it is boring. If you already know who is going to win, why even watch?
From the jump, however, it was obvious that predictability wouldn’t be an issue in Tokyo. At no point did any of us have a clue how any given game would play out. You might have guessed that Zambia would lose their Group F match against the Netherlands, but did you predict a final score of 10-3 with a hat trick each from Barbra Banda and Vivianne Miedema? How about this 4-4 banger between China and Zambia, with a second A hat trick from Banda? (Don’t sleep on Barbra Banda.) Maybe you had a feeling Vivianne Miedema would win the Golden Boot, but did you think she would by scoring 10 goals in her first Olympics, as many as the great footballer Carli Lloyd scored in four? Probably not, which is exactly why this tournament was so fun. Watching young players make their mark on the world is always a joy, and this year’s stars have been particularly impressive. Wherever their flourishing careers take them, fans will surely follow.
Wild upheavals and outrageous goal scoring are always fun, but in this tournament they have also been hugely important. In a sport that has been so completely dominated by Team USA for so long, they were a clear sign that, finally, the rest of the world is starting to catch up. Of course, this is not the first time that an underdog has won Olympic gold, but as someone who has been following women’s football for as long as it has been on TV, I’m telling you, it’s different this time.