“We didn’t accomplish what we set out to,’’ observed Kelly Smith. “We’ve broken these records, inspired a lot of people but we didn’t get a medal. We fell short and all the players are hurting.”
In the ultimate reality show that is sport, the ending is not always assured. In fact, it’s very rarely assured. And until they start the Robotic Olympics (I expect about 2048 or so), the games are going to be played by humans, who have bodies that tend to break down. Kelly Smith’s body has been telling her for a while that the end of her playing career is near. She was able to get through three group stage games, leading Great Britain to an undefeated record, but just couldn’t go today, and the team wilted without her (and a lot of help from a resurgent Canada).
What was supposed to happen is that the country was supposed to continue to rally around Great Britain into the semifinals with the heavily favored United States. There was to be record crowds, record television audiences, and a chance to grow the women’s game in a place where it seemed to have a great place to do so. Instead, in front of a non-sell out in Coventry (although it was close), everything came to a screeching half.
Someone tell the writers of this show they’re terrible.
Ironically, I got home today from camp and flipping through HBO, came across “Bend It Like Beckham”. I’m going to guess most of you have seen it, I happened to come in at the scene where a match is going on and some young men in the crowd are making fun of women playing soccer, “Can’t you just see them as proper footballers?,” one of them tries to interject before laughter erupts from the others.
Believe it or not, that movie came out a decade ago. Since then, women’s soccer in Britain has grown in the number of teams, but the prevailing attitude still seemed to be a little different than it is in more accepting countries, at least overtly, as much of the discussion seemed to revolve around how the U.S. looked more than how they played.
A couple of weeks later, at the hallowed ground of Wembley Stadium, more than 70,000 people packed the place to cheer Great Britain to a 1-0 win over Brazil, and a new era has been born. Well, we’re not that naïve, are we? But still a run to the gold medal game would certainly do wonders for the sport in the birthplace of the game, and with more structure for a professional league in place, could it be a watershed moment? And all they have to do is get by ….. the United States in the semifinals. Gulp. Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it:
One of the toughest things when trying to project what’s going to happen in a tournament as it progresses is how much a single performance matters in the context of the entirety of it. Great Britain was awesome against Cameroon, arguably the best game I’ve seen anyone play at the Olympics to date. But was it because Britain was that good or was Cameroon – even though they seemed to be playing hard – that poor? And even if it was Britain, can they replicate it in the next few outings? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I was encouraged.
Who’s the hottest player in WPS right now? She’s probably not among the usual suspects.
She may not have won four FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year awards (she hasn’t won any, in fact). She may not have the pace or acceleration of someone in her early 20’s (she’s in her early 30’s, in fact). And she may not have the 5’11 frame that can see her through tough aerial battles (she’s actually 5’6 and has never been known for her aerial prowess).
Regardless, Kelly Smith is still one of the best female soccer players in the world. Who ever said there was a ‘wrong side’ of 30?
Kelly Smith is having a banner year. The English international has now scored 10 goals this season, six of which have come from her previous four games.
But Smith is beyond just a goal scorer, she’s also a playmaker. In addition to being the third-highest goal scorer in WPS, Smith is now tied with two other players for the fourth highest assist-make in the league with five. Although she may no longer be able to go full steam for the full 90, she can still change a game with a single killer pass or a through ball into space.
What separates a great player from a great leader? Knowing when to be great, knowing when to lead your team. It’s not about contributing when your team is doing well, it’s contributing when things aren’t going well that really matters. Much like last season, Smith has done just that and has helped her team get hot at the perfect moment in the season. The wind is now at the Breakers’ sails right now and Smith is navigating the ship.
Kelly Smith; an English legend living an American dream.
(Breakers fans, you’re obliged to skip these first few paragraphs).
Let’s take it back to August 9, 2009. The location: Harvard Stadium. The scenario: the Breakers are coming off a three-match streak during which they earned just one point and scored zero goals. This is the final match of the season and it’s against the Los Angeles Sol, who have already booked their place in the Final by dint of finishing top of the table. But due to some mathematic possibility that surely only a person holding a Masters in Trigonometry can fully understand, the Breakers can still qualify for the playoffs. Their destiny is not in their hands (they qualify if the Freedom loses or Sky Blue wins or if the Freedom wins and the Breakers tie and if 13 other things go right) but their fate is simple: lose and it’s over.
Ok so full disclosure: I am a huge Kelly Smith fan. As if it wasn’t flamingly obvious by the Kelly Smith-heavy content so far or that my gravatar thing bears her #10 shirt or that she’s up in the banner above (you can see her next to Jill Scott if you squint really hard).
I’m not sure what it is exactly. It could certainly be her indominable spirit (see England’s performance at the 2009 Euro’s or the entire 2009 Boston Breakers season), or her wondeful ability in front of goal or just her modest, cool, non-chalant “yep, it’s just what I do and I can’t explain it” attitude towards being a current-day icon in the women’s game. It could also be the fact that she has been so dominant in a sport that is usually marginalized, dismissed and made invisible by pundits who would be totally obsessed if she were only a man. This is probably why I have a certain affinity for the English players and coaches in general, who are rejected by their own culture in a sense.
I hope she is enjoying her time in the States.