The last (and only) time I attended a world championship sporting event was in 1968, when I waited in line all night for a standing-room-only ticket to watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals play the Detroit Tigers in the so-called World Series of Baseball. Alas, the Cardinals lost.
This time in Ottawa on June 26, 2015, I got to see a truly worldwide sporting event, the Women’s World Cup Soccer semi-final match between the United States and China.
Women’s World Cup fever has gripped Canada, and the U.S. Mission has capitalized on the enthusiasm with outreach to the next generation of soccer stars. During June, the Canada Public Affairs team and the U.S. Department of State sponsored two Olympians, soccer players Lori Lindsay and Mary Harvey, to provide life and sports skills to indigenous girls and underserved communities in Canada. Mary Harvey, who was starting goalie for the 1991 World Cup Champions, offered programs in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, and Montreal. Lori Lindsay spoke to Canadian youth and coached small groups of young athletes in Vancouver and Yellowknife.
Ottawa’s Landsdowne TD Stadium is an intimate sports venue, with a capacity of 24,000 spectators, seats close to the action. For the tense match between China and the United States, ardent fans packed the stands. Chinese supporters were greatly outnumbered, but made up for that with their enthusiasm. I sat near a large group of boisterous Chinese, all dressed in red and carrying ingenious sound-producing instruments -- drums and bells and horns and whistles.
Red-white-and blue war-painted avatar of America prepares for U.S.-China WWC match in Ottawa, June 26, 2015 [State Department Photo]
U.S. fans were not to be outdone. A multitude of Uncle Sams made the scene, strutting their star-spangled, sartorial splendor. Red-white-and-blue war-painted avatars of America screamed support for their favorite team. Most Canadian fans rooted for the U.S. side, but they were far too polite and cheerful to crack wise or make offense against the underdog Chinese team. This graceful Canadian mood infused the crowd on a glorious midsummer evening in Ottawa, suffused with golden sunlight.
The American team, rated number two in world, was a heavy favorite to defeat the Chinese, rated 16th. The Americans did seem in control for most of the game, retaining ball possession 56 percent of the time, outshooting the Chinese 17-6. But despite those odds, the game remained in doubt until the closing whistle. The first half ended in a 0-0 draw, and a few worry lines began to appear on American faces.
Most of the action in the first half took place in the northern half of the field, where the American women brought wave after wave of relentless attacks. With a little luck, they could have scored two or three goals in the opening stanza, but they didn’t. I sat mesmerized in the third row at the goal line, almost within spitting distance of play. Watching soccer on TV can be a great experience, with all the slo-mo cams and the expert analysis. But only in person can you grasp the speed and virtuosity with which these women play the game.
With tension rising in the crowd, the second half began. The United States continued to attack, but this time at the other end of the field. Instead of watching giants bestriding the earth, I could only discern Lilliputian armies battling in the distance. But, I could see the action well enough to roar with delight when veteran Carli Lloyd (my namesake) leaped high and headed a ball into the bottom right corner of the goal at the 53rd minute.
The Chinese were a fine team and a worthy opponent. They played excellent defense, but they were not destined to come from behind. Final score: United States-1, China- 0.
And now the Americans take on world number one Germany, on June 30 at 7:00pm, in Montreal in what promises to be the match of the tournament. Keep up with the U.S. Embassy in Ottowa's FIFA World Cup coverage by following @USEmbassyOttawa on Twitter.
About the Author: Lloyd Neighbors serves as the Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada.
For more information:
- Learn more about the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs' Sports Diplomacy programs.
- Check out highlights and our interactive map of 2015 World Cup Sports Diplomacy.