For all that the Bay Area has to offer in sports, it lacks women’s professional basketball1 and soccer teams. Luckily, now that I’m in Raleigh, National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) matches are just a few minutes from home. I attended my first North Carolina Courage match last Saturday against Sky Blue FC (based in New Jersey). The Courage held a flash ticket sale during the US Men’s National Team match last Tuesday and at $10 for any seat in the park, I couldn’t say no. I not only had a great seat, I had money left over for iced tea2 and cheese fries! (It’s those little joys in life…)
An early highlight of the day (that, believe it or not, had nothing to do with cheese fries): as I was looking for my seat, a group of young girls near me called out to Carli Lloyd as Sky Blue FC began their pre-game warm-up. Although I didn’t see the interaction, I know Lloyd waved to the girls because I suddenly found myself in the middle of a cloudburst of screaming and jumping. In that moment I saw my own 10-year-old self reflected in their excitement and nearly started jumping and squealing right along with them. For all of the ways that Carli Lloyd dominates the game, it always earns a special place in my soul when players interact with children. I absolutely LOVE the representation of women from so many backgrounds in the NWSL. It’s beautiful to see these children see themselves represented at the highest levels of the sport, but it’s also wonderful to see players–perhaps seeing their own 10-year-old selves reflected in their young fans–interact and encourage the next generation.
Cheese fries eaten (and the carton properly disposed of because I didn’t want to step in old cheese) and nursing that iced tea, it was time for some soccer! There’s a purity to the women’s game that I was drawn to while watching the Women’s World Cup that I appreciated even more watching in person. Without a lot of theatrics that are often associated with the men’s game, the fundamental skills–the real beauty of the game–are more fully on display. The other thing that I saw and loved was a universal work ethic. No one quits on the play, which caught me by surprise a couple of times as I leaned back anticipating a throw-in or a goal kick, only to have the play continue and, in a couple of cases, scoring chances created.
Speaking of skill and work, for the better part of two hours I had a huge grin on my face watching Crystal Dunn, Lynn Williams, and Debinha drive Sky Blue’s defense bonkers while McCall Zerboni cooly held down the midfield and directed traffic back toward Sky Blue’s side of the field. This is a team that is abundant in talent and drive.
Despite outshooting Sky Blue 22-3 (including a couple of very near-misses and a shot that clanked off of the right post) the game looked to end in a scoreless draw until Jaelene Hinkle sprung Jessica McDonald with a pass that rolled perfectly into her stride. McDonald slalomed through Sky Blue’s defense, drew Sky Blue’s Kailen Sheridan out of her goal and then tapped the ball into the empty net for the extra-time winner.3
It was a great afternoon of sunshine (so glad I brought sunscreen!) and soccer. I’m grateful to have an NWSL team in my back yard and look forward to going to many more matches.