"One, Two, Three, Four, Five, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT, NINE" Canadian fans half chanted, half screamed every time that US keeper Nicole Barnhart grasped a ball on this most cordial of occasions, the centenary of the founding of US Soccer, for a "friendly" match north of the border on an idyllic day in an idyllic stadium. The scarlet masses refused to bow to their nation's well-earned reputation for politeness, civility, or good-will.
Because Canadians have not forgotten.
Last year, on an unusually hot London night, the United States Women's National Team ripped a berth in the Olympic Gold Medal game straight from Canadian fingertips, a hit-and-run sucker punch that came indirectly, but oh-so-importantly, from a bizarre six-second violation call and a handful of other refereeing decisions that ranged from dubious to criminal depending on your location above or below the 49th parallel.
So every time Barnhart secured another ball, Canadian fans reminded the entire association about the rule on which their Olympic glory was based: One, Two, Three...
Why Women's Sports Can Be Boring
Sports aren't exciting to watch merely because of immense technical ability and athleticism, because women's soccer has both in abundance. It's all about the storyline.
Too often when I watch women's sports, there's a lot of overly saccharine pats delivered squarely on our own backs about how great it is that women's sports are a thing, applauding ourselves for watching them, how proud we all are of their accomplishments; basically, how it's just so great that they're all out there and having a good time.
But that's boring. Sports need hatred. Sports need bad feeling and ill-will. Compelling rivalries aren't those that remain consistently gentlemanly or lady-like, they're the ones where it's not important to merely defeat your rival but rather humiliate them, embarrass them, and demoralize them. The kind of rivalries where "my favorite team is Bama and my second favorite team is whoever is playing Auburn."
Perhaps even more important than mutual dislike is the incomparable fury that comes from being wronged. A bad refereeing decision (Maradonna's "Hand of God"), a loyalty-shattering front-office move (LeBron stealing off to South Beach on national television), or conspiratorial perfidy (the infamous Ewing lottery of '85). Good memories die hard. Painful ones die harder.
The USMNT has Mexico. For around three decades now, it has been an epic border war for pride and honor, not so much a game as an eschatological reckoning. Trips down to the Azteca aren't merely difficult away fixtures, they're terrifying psychological wars against ones own mind and nature itself. And that makes for un-missable television. The rivalry's female counterparts haven't quite heated things up the same way, but I'm sure that soon La Tri (which includes a childhood classmate of mine, the Stanford-alumnus playmaker Teresa Noyola) will be just as feared opponents sooner rather than later.
Sure, the USWNT has had plenty of conflict for storyline fodder. I still remember how I felt physically ill after we lost to Japan in the 2011 World Cup finals, just after a young and pacy Alex Morgan seemed to seal the badly needed win. I don't think I've been more gutted after a game in my life, and I'm a Spurs fan (of the North London, not West Texas variety). There were the massively disappointing 2003 and 2007 World Cups. There was bizarre internal drama about Hope Solo's place as the team's starting keeper.
But there wasn't anything mean. There wasn't anything despicable. There was no evil, no villains and heroes. Now, we just may be in luck.
Why This Is a Sign of Popcorn-Worthy Conflict to Come
The funny thing is, the game today sucked for a long time. The first half was turgid, ponderous, and sclerotic. Possession was labored, chances were half-hearted, finishes had no venom, and all movement forward was impotent. It was the polar opposite of the USMNT game that immediately preceded it, which was an electric display of attacking pyrotechnics.
But I couldn't look away. How could I? Canadians hate being America's little sister politically, culturally, and athletically. Now that they've been robbed in a high-profile game, their contempt and resentments drip from their teeth as they gnash and scream in protest. When Sydney LeRoux (Canadian-born, no less!) iced the game in stoppage time, and held a finger up to her mouth as she ran around the touch line to silence the Canadian crowd, I cackled in delight from the unashamed disrespectfulness of her actions. Can you imagine anything more insulting than to see one of your own gleefully rubbing your nose in your own inadequacy? I loved it.
Abby Wambach appeared on (the excellent) Men in Blazers podcast in March and talked about her personal rivalry with Canada's Taliswoman, Christine Sinclair. Although she was perfectly professional about it, it was almost a tantalizingly calculated response to a potential teammate in the NWSL. I was already excited. Sure, it was respectful, which is fine, but the tension is clear: this rivalry is going to get even better.
Hopefully, this means that other women's sports wont be infantilized in the same way. They aren't "women's" sports, they're just sports. So treat them like it.
For now, here's to the next great border war, the one to the north. Forget all that condescending bullshit about how great women's sports are for women, forget all that demeaningly positive coverage, forget playing nice and lady-like. Give me some more "fuck you" to women's sports, because I love it. And I hope we take the 2015 World Cup with some 5-0 humiliation of you maple-syrup-sucking mother fuckers.
54'40" or fight!