Last night, I tagged along to see the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team play Cuba as part of the Olympic Qualifying tournament taking place this week here in Vancouver.
While I was a regular, if not slightly disinterested, spectator of the sport decades ago when my brother played AYSO soccer, I’ve never played the game myself. I only started watching women’s soccer after I moved back to Canada a few years ago and found myself spending oodles of time with a former serious soccer player (with whom I now live). Last summer, I was swept into watching the FIFA Women’s World Cup games, even after Canada was eliminated, even missing part of the last day of the Folk Festival (which, you might recall, is a big deal for me) to watch the final match.
Watching international competitions now, starting with the Winter Olympics two years ago, I’ve come to see the U.S. teams through Canadian eyes, and am almost (but not really) surprised at how easy it is for me to pull for my new home country’s teams before I root for the (often arrogant) Americans, how much more gosh darn fun it is to cheer for the gals and guys in red. And it’s not because the Canucks are always the underdogs, though as an (occasionally still arrogant) American, I might have suspected that. Quite the contrary, it turns out that Canadians are just really, really good at lots of sports, not just hockey and curling.
Take women’s soccer, for example. Led by their star striker, Christine Sinclair, Canada easily won last night’s game 2-0, advancing into the semifinal round. Only two of the eight competing teams will go to the London Olympics this summer, so seeing Canada do so well in front of a home crowd was great fun. And while they may be stereotypically quiet and polite most of the time, once they hit the field, Canadians are fantastic competitors.
Just as inspiring as Canada’s players are its fans. They cheer every time their team TRIES to score a goal. Heck, they cheer when the other team scores a goal. They’re good sports, these Canadians.
What struck me more than anything about last night’s game was the sheer number of girls and young women in the crowd of 12,417 (a record-breaking attendance for a CONCACAF women’s game in Canada, according to the Globe and Mail). Before the game started, children lined the concourse of BC Place, furiously scribbling signs and having little red maple leaves painted on their little cheeks.
Lots of girls appeared to be there with their soccer teams. At one point, they started what can only be called a “Screaming Wave” — similar to the stadium fan game where, when it’s your turn, you stand up and put your hands in the air, only this time, when it was your turn, you and your 11-year-old girlfriends just screamed as loud as you could.
Ouch. Tylenol should sponsor these events.
Instead, CIBC (a national bank) handed out branded destined-for-the-landfill-plastic tubes for the kids to bang together to “make some noise,” apparently ignorant of the fact that 11 year old girls don’t need props to make noise.
All of the ruckus aside, it was great to see the next generation of women soccer players watching their heroes on the big field, playing at the top of their game. Women’s sports has come a long way since my childhood, and I’m excited to see where it — and Team Canada — continues to go from here.