Sunday, July 10, 2011

Beauty and the Beast: on USA v Brazil

Brazilian scholars Sebastião Votre and Ludmilla Mourão observe that there are “two faces” to media representations of the women’s game, “skill and sensuality.”  These two qualities are divided, as the media uses one player to represent beauty, another to represent skill – and pits the two against each other, as bitter rivals. In sports media, being beautiful and skillful are understood as at odds with each other. It’s a displacement of the larger problem, in which being a woman is understood as at odds with being an athlete.
The relationship between the USWNT and Brazil is at risk of being cast in these terms. I open with the above academic point as a caution against playing into such narratives.
That said, tonight’s match absolutely was beauty and the beast. The game was both, at once – a tornado of the awful and the amazing.
Take the first goal: It was a pretty play but an own goal. A forced error. The second, more ugliness: Buehler with a professional foul in the box (from what I'm seeing, the red card was not controversial outside the US). But then Solo blocked a penalty from Cristiane. It was beautiful. A real stunner of a save. 
And it was waved off. Do over. 
A defender (I hear) came into the box early. But at the time, announcers said the referee called Solo for coming off her line (she hadn't). I still don't know why the referee awarded the do-over. Or the yellow to Solo, for that matter.
Marta took that second try. (How is that allowable?) And that was that. 
Beautiful shot, shitty goal.
The USWNT looked very organized and brutal through much of the game. By brutal, I mean physical, powerful, aggressive.
But Brazil was throwing red flags in front of the bull. Again and again players would attempt to take the ball through a defensive hive, looking as much for the foul as the pass. Fouls came (and were or were not called), but so did passes – including a marvelous one from Maurine tipped into the goal with a freakishly acrobatic strike from Marta. Maybe Maurine was offside – journalists tweeted the photo and it’s a close call. So Brazil went up. Either way, the goal was pure genius.
After this point, everything is a haze. The refereeing was atrocious. Monstrous.
Brazil did everything it could to wind down the clock, hoping to guard its lead by lying down on the field. Ericka, in fact, did just that. After some minor scrap, the play moved away from her – she moved from near to far post, looked around to see who was watching her – and just lay down in front of the goal. Ugly.
The USWNT  did not lose their focus. In the last minutes of the game, they seemed to get back a strange rhythm – as if they’d been playing on a really shitty field and suddenly knew all its kinks.
Ericka’s acting most certainly contributed to the awarding of three minutes of injury time. This is about when Rapinoe delivered an incredible ball into the danger zone and one of the world’s most dangerous players ran in for it. Abby Wambach scored a beautiful goal – the game’s first, really, and it was the equalizer.
Penalties – again. Karmic law dictated that Solo would save another penalty kick –that it would be off the foot of Daiane, who’d scored Brazil’s own goal earlier, and any doubts about what Solo might have saved in 2007 were laid to rest by what she saved in 2011.
Once again, the team with possession somehow did not dominate the game. Which is, of course, what happens to Brazil, over and over again. Which is why so many of us want to see them break though. But not by lying down on the field!
The USWNT played a woman down for the last 20 minutes of regulation time, and another 30 minutes on top of that. Marta and company get under the team’s skin – it was clear. But the USWNT was never completely rattled. They’ve seen it before. 
The US women squared their shoulders to the contradictions within the game, and kept playing – it was a terrific performance under extremely trying conditions. A hard earned, classic USA win. 
All that stuff about women not diving, not engaging in cynical gamesmanship? It’s complete bullshit, and everyone who has actually played with women knows it. Can we put that myth to rest? We play beautiful football, we play beastly football. And as the level of the game improves, it will only create more torque as one force pulls on the other. Often within the same team, and the same player. Marta.
Fortunately, Hope Solo seems to keep her beast confined to her tweets.

 ref: "Women's Football in Brazil: Progress and Problems" in Soccer and Society, volume 4, issue 2-3 (2003), pp. 254-267.


  1. I have been informed by my student athletes that "beast" is now a positive term for aggressive and extraordinary athleticism. How do we ever keep up.

  2. Regarding Marta doing the retake on the penalty kick, this is permitted. As long as the player is identified to the referee prior to the kick, there is no problem changing the kicker. You cannot substitute a player at that point and have the sub take the kick, however.

    I live in LA and referee in the LA Metro league; I work with the CAFLA grupo de árbitros. I thought your series about the adult AYSO league was interesting. Having worked with the youth side of AYSO, I can't say I'm surprised that there were issues with the ethnic blend of adult futbol in LA. The fact that different groups have different expectations is something that a homogeneous organization can have problems with.

    I've been reading your blog off and on for some time and I find them thought-provoking even if I don't have the same perspective you do. Keep up the good work. Mike

  3. Thank you Lumen Mikie for reading, and for commenting. It's hard to do the AYSO experience justice in the blog format - it is more suited to the gothic novel!

    And, yes, I'm well aware of the beast meaning - was hoping someone would pick up on it! Thanks smash13!


  4. I am tired of hearing all this abuse heaped on the Aussie ref, Jacqui Melksham. In a very difficult and emotionally charged game, most of the calls she is now being criticized for were technically correct. Buehler's foul on Marta (which it clearly was) certainly merited a PK, as well as an ejection, not only for being the last defender foiling an attempt on goal but also for being a from behind tackle, which not so long ago FIFA deemed an automatic ejection. On the PK that Solo initially saved in regulation time, the laws of the game state clearly that when players of the defending team encroach in the penalty area and the result of the PK is favorable to them (in this case Solo blocking the shot), the kick must be retaken. Though players usually encroach on the penalty area on a PK, the vast majority of the time the kicker scores, thus making a retake unnecessary by the rules. That is why it is "rarely" called (as if allowing a violation is OK just because everyone else allows it, bringing back memories of the old what-if-everyone-jumped-off-a-cliff rejoinder of parents.) As for the yellow card on Solo, the rules state the keeper cannot leave the area on a PK, so again, justified call by the laws of the game.
    On the offside position of Maurine on Marta's ET goal, 1) it was a close call for an assistant ref on the opposite side and 2) that is not Marksham's call, but the assistant ref's. So Marksham is blameless on that one also.
    I would also like to point out that Marksham had the guts to do what few male refs ever do, yellow carding a player who so obviously faked an injury to waste time, which is what she did when Erika shamelessly returned to the pitch seconds after being carried off in agony.
    Finally, Marksham showed her consistency when she called the Brazilian keeper for illegal movement on the US's first post-ET PK. If she hadn't, and allowed the US miss to stand, the result might have been very different.
    I will end my rant by pointing out that Marksham did not give Cheney a second yellow on a clear handball, and if someone wants to condemn her for incompetence on that one it would be someone from Rio not Cleveland.
    All in all, all this griping from US fans about the ref betray either a lack of knowledge of the game or just the kind of jingoistic bias we're so loved around the world for. I for one would love to see Marksham handle the game Sunday, though I know it won't happen. In any case, GO USA!

  5. For my part it's jingoistic bias. I just don't think the penalty save should have been waived off - the red was right on.

    I listened to the match in Europe - the commentary re the refereeing was pretty ruthless, but did point out the errors went both ways.


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