June 14, 2015
For the five days that we spent in Vancouver, we never did figure out the geography of the place. Part of this is to blame on the fact that Canadians appear to pick one name for an area, and then give everything, even locations many kilometers apart, the same name. Vancouver is an island, or one of many incorporated areas or just a city. It’s everywhere in southeast British Columbia.
But more of our confusion was based in the natural exquisiteness that envelops the city. In every direction, there is a vast body of water that can only be the ocean, except that beyond that ocean is a distant ring of mountains, and not just humble hills, but fierce snow-capped mounds of molten rock. It’s easy to conclude that Vancouver is an island like Manhattan, because you need to cross a body of water to get anywhere, but it is firmly connected to the mainland. Or that it’s in a valley, but, that’s not true either. There’s always something natural just beyond whatever you’ve just seen up ahead, that is that much more spectacular.
Therefore, save for the evening we attended the World Cup at the downtown stadium and the following disappointing meal in a nearby nearly-abandoned Chinatown, we spent all of our time outside of the city itself. For the first day, we rented bikes and headed against rush hour traffic, through a densely-wooded island park, along a coast with views the city’s gigantic harbor littered with dozens of majestic moored oil tankers, over several steep hills, past unfathomably large trees and into Lighthouse Park. The park, at the western edge of North America, offered vistas of evermore stupendous mountains, trees and islands to come on the horizon. Additionally, for us, we caught sight of a bald eagle in flight just as we reached the peak of overlook. It landed, not far off, at the top of a tree. When two hikers arrived shortly thereafter, I excitedly pointed out the wildlife that I had only ever seen in zoo cages and National Geographic shows. As locals, they were politely unimpressed.
The next two days led us again along the coast in different directions. We stumbled upon a clothing-optional beach (we opted to remain clothed), a family beach (with a pool, no less), and finally a beach with enough sun, shade and sand to satisfy our relaxed mood. In each spot, it was impossible to tell if we were looking across the water at the rest of the continent or out at one of the islands that encircle the peninsular city.
On the last day, we set out for the closest landmass across the water, Bowen Island. First by bus and then by ferry, we traveled to the island in time to start a mountain hike at 3pm. The mid-afternoon arrival provided us enough time to get up, down and on the second to last ferry back to the mainland without losing the plentiful daylight available this far North in late June. And while our map proved less than reliable and the last quarter of the hike brought some unforecasted rain, we benefited from being the only people on the mountain. As we made our way down the last gravel road, Linda heard a rustle of branches behind her and the pathetic small cry of which only a lost child is capable. Turning around we found a tiny fawn bleating and making cautious steps towards us. Then, after being momentarily confused as we pulled out our camera, it located its parents and trotted off into the woods.
June 16, 2015
This particular version of the United States national team has been particularly difficult to get behind. We were introduced during last year’s Gold Cup (the championship tournament for the North America), when they annihilated a handful of small Central American and Caribbean teams acutely reflecting the geopolitical power and wealth disparity between the nations through the venue of sport.
The victory came in the context of the coach of Trinidad and Tobago pleading for (and receiving) financial help from the football community at-large to feed and train his players when his federation supplied him with $500 total for expenses for the entire tournament. The Haitians, who had run a crowdfunding campaign for their own participation, gave half the proceeds to the Trinidadians. For as the FBI has eagerly revealed, the accumulated stores of football funds rarely find their way to football itself. It’s tough to root for the favorite, when you know the competition is inherently stacked against the underdog, not for lack of ability, but lack of resources.
This gap however, is not limited to countries like Trinidad that simply choose not to spend any capital on the women’s game, but also here in the United States, which was the dominant power in the sport from the inception of the World Cup era in 1991 until being passed by Europe and Japan in the last couple of years. Our team has 23 players, one (Sydney Leroux) is biracial, and a second (Amy Rodriguez) has one set of Cuban grandparents. The rest are white and every one (including Leroux and Rodriguez) comes from the type of privileged background that allows for success in American women’s soccer.
The national team is chosen from players who excel in elite college programs, which select their athletic schlorships from teams at elite (often private) high schools, which are in turn recruited from expensive traveling soccer academies. A girl playing streetball in Brazil or Nigeria might, however unlikely, catch on with a neighborhood club and eventually find her way to the national team, but it is simply impossible for a poor kid in the US to have the same aspirations to play the world’s simplest game outside of her block because of the system such as it is.
It is in this context that we settled into our seats in BC Place in Vancouver to cheer on the Americans. The broader situation that has led to their selection and the international patriarchal racist structure of wealth disparity that has created their position as favorites in this game, is, of course, not the fault of the players that takes the field. Unlike Stade Olympique in Montreal, BC Place was built with football (both gridiron and soccer) in mind. The roof lets the sun in, but all keeps the noise in. The sightlines are fantastic from every angle, even our position in the corner of the upper deck. Two sections over, the Nigerian supporters stand and shake to the beat of drums that continue throughout the match. Across the way, an organized group of American fans throw their arms over each others shoulders and bounce up and down in occasional unison. Perhaps it is our proximity, but it appears that through much of the game, it is the 100 or so Africans who can be heard most prominently over the din of 50,000 Americans on a day trip.
The US has not played well of late. Their on-field plan remains the same as it did in 2003, when given their athletic advantage, they could simply outrun the other team on attack and muscle them off the ball on defense. While the US still prizes speed and strength, the rest of the world has turned to skill. An inability to pass the ball through rather than over the opponent has become a distinct liability; long balls over the top to an aging Abby Wambach have lost nearly all of their effectiveness. What has saved the team, and does so on this day, is that the class of the US remains its centerback pairing of Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn.
These two, in the last line of defense, maintain position and prevent any real danger from Nigerians. The US scores, seemingly the only way they know how, from a corner kick to the far post which Wambach turns into the net. It is frustrating to watch, but they carry the day. They look best after Nigeria go a player down after a second yellow card and the Americans’ job turns from trying to score to trying to keep the ball. Finally, they relax and string together passes on the ground. At the end they bring on legend, former captain Christie Rampone, so that she is on the field when they clinch a spot in the next round.