WYSO

World Cup Gives Girls A Goal

Jul 16, 2011
Originally published on July 16, 2011 2:25 pm

A group of 11-year-old girls at a park in West Los Angeles gives one answer when asked who their female soccer player is: Mia Hamm.

Granted Hamm is one of the game's greatest players, but the U.S. women's star forward retired back when these girls were toddlers.

Gia Polizzi, Sydney Collyns and JoJo Levey have never seen Hamm play. They only know of her from YouTube, which incidentally didn't exist when Hamm was playing.

So they're ready for some new idols. The current U.S. Women's National Team has plenty; the girls just have to learn some new names.

Having an idol is key for an athlete to succeed in a sport, says Mike Woitalla, executive editor of Soccer America magazine and the coach of his daughter's youth soccer team. "The girls in this country who play soccer are overdue for someone to watch and to emulate and to idolize, in the good sense of the word," he says, "and this could happen at this World Cup."

Excitement is running high for the women's team, which plays Japan in the final Sunday. This is the first time the U.S. has made it to the finals since its famous victory over China in 1999.

ESPN had one of its highest TV ratings for Wednesday's semifinal against France. Venues all over the country are readying for record crowds — from the Civic Center in San Francisco to the bar that forward Abby Wambach's brother owns in Pittsford, N.Y.

Youth soccer leagues are also gearing up for a spike in registration, like what they saw after the women's World Cup win 12 years ago.

At a West L.A. soccer camp, it's not just the girls who are excited.

"I've watched every one of their games," says 9-year-old Liam Carpenter-Shulman. "I'm pretty intense about it, because I don't usually see the U.S. men's team do very well."

He says there's no doubt who will win Sunday: the U.S.

Why?

"[Goalie] Hope Solo and Abby Wambach."

Solo said as much the other day, but she was far more modest. She gave credit for the team's success to her coach, Pia Sundhage, who she says lets everyone enjoy the game, like when they were kids.

The young soccer fans in West L.A. hope the U.S. Women's National Team does just that --- and wins big Sunday.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

The success of the U.S. Women's team is especially thrilling for young soccer playing girls who haven't had some stars to look up to for a while. NPR's Carrie Kahn has more.

CARRIE KAHN: If you ask a group of 11-year old girls who's their favorite female soccer player you get one answer.

GIA POLIZZI: Mine is Mia Hamm.

SYDNEY COLLYNS: Mia Hamm also.

KAHN: Granted Mia Hamm is one of the game's greatest players, but the U.S. women's star forward retired back when these girls were toddlers.

POLIZZI: I'm Gia and I'm 11.

COLLYNS: I'm Sydney and I'm 11.

JOJO LEVEY: I'm JoJo and I'm 11.

KAHN: That's Gia Polizzi, Sydney Collyns and JoJo Levey. JoJo clarifies that she's actually almost 12. That makes her the only one of the three alive the year Hamm and the U.S. team won the World Cup. None of these girls has ever seen Hamm play. They only know of her from YouTube, which incidentally, didn't exist when Hamm was playing. So, Gia, Sydney and JoJo are ready for some new idols. The U.S. women's team has plenty; the girls just have to learn some new names.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNAPPING)

LEVEY: I forgot her name. She's a goalie.

COLLYNS: Hope Solo.

LEVEY: Yes. She's my favorite. Hope Solo and then something, something Wam-bach.

UNIDENTIFIED COACH: Okay. Good morning everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOYS AND GIRLS SAYING GOOD MORNING)

KAHN: The girls and boys too, are at this soccer camp at a local park on LA's Westside. Eleven-year-old Clare Cooper and 10-year-old Sabrina Malinda love soccer and their new found girl bragging rights.

CLARE COOPER: Hope Solo is like an amazing goalie. She makes the most amazing saves that I don't think very men could do.

SABRINA MALINDA: True.

COOPER: So that's...

MALINDA: Yeah. My brother tries to mock her. When I'm kicking at him he's trying to make Hope Solo saves and I'm like you are never going to be as good as her.

KAHN: Having an idol is key for an athlete to succeed in a sport says Mike Woitalla. He's executive editor of Soccer America magazine and the coach of his daughter's youth soccer team.

MIKE WOITALLA: The girls in this country who play soccer are overdue for someone to watch and to emulate and to idolize, but in the good sense of the word, and this could happen at this World Cup.

KAHN: Excitement is running high for the women's team. ESPN had one of its highest TV ratings for last Wednesday's semifinal against France. Venues all over the country are readying for record crowds tomorrow, from the Civic Center in San Francisco, to Abby Wambach's brother's bar in upstate New York. And youth soccer leagues are gearing up for a spike in registration, like what they saw after the Women's World Cup win back in 1999.

COACH: All right girls, same drill, dribbling around, listen to my command. Off we go.

KAHN: At the West L.A. soccer camp, it's not just the girls who are excited.

LIAM CARPENTER: I've watched everyone of their games. I'm pretty intense about it 'cuz I don't usually see the U.S. Men's team do very well.

KAHN: Nine-year-old Liam Carpenter-Shulman says there's no doubt who will win tomorrow. Who do you call it for?

CARPENTER: USA.

KAHN: How come?

CARPENTER: Hope Solo and Abby Wambach.

KAHN: The other day, U.S. goalie Hope Solo said as much but was far more modest. She gave credit for the team's success to her coach, who she says lets everyone just enjoy the game, like when they were kids.

COACH: Turn. I want to see a fancy turn. Lovely. Accelerate.

KAHN: The young soccer fans in West L.A. hope the U.S. Women's team does just that - and wins big tomorrow against Japan. Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

COACH: Let's have everyone chant USA.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAPPING)

(SOUNDBITE OF KIDS CHANTING USA)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.