CHICAGO — To some American soccer fans, Sunday was a feast packed with meaningful games throughout the day. To others, it was an indication of the lengths the women’s game still has to go to earn respect.
Sunday afternoon in France, the U.S. women capped their dominant run through the World Cup by defeating the Netherlands, 2-0, to win their record fourth World Cup championship and second in a row. American stars Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan impressed throughout the tournament, and the history-making team garnered attention from politicians, celebrities and their fellow athletes. But even within the realm of U.S. soccer, the women’s national team didn’t have the day to itself.
That night in Chicago, seven time zones and more than 4,000 miles away, the U.S. men’s national team also played in a final, losing, 1-0, to archrival Mexico for the Gold Cup continental championship. A win would have helped reestablish confidence in a program that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but the Americans couldn’t capitalize on their early chances and let Mexico break through in the second half.
A passionate Mexico fan base swarmed the stadium, leaving about 15 percent of seats to supporters of the U.S. national team, which lacks the international accomplishments of its female counterpart.
The nighttime start of the Gold Cup final allowed U.S. men’s team members to watch the World Cup final earlier in the day, as Coach Gregg Berhalter said they’ve done throughout the tournament.
“Obviously congratulations to them,” forward Jordan Morris said after the loss to Mexico. “We’re very happy. That’s very exciting. Two in a row, that’s unbelievably impressive. Of course, we’re supporting them and are very happy about their result.”
In addition to a few MLS matches, the final of Copa America, Brazil defeating Peru for the South American championship, was also played Sunday, at 4 p.m. Eastern time.
The scheduling overlap — two men’s continental finals on the same day as the women’s marquee event, one held every four years — called to mind years of neglect by the sport’s governing bodies. Long-standing grievances over financial and technical support between the U.S. women’s program and the U.S. Soccer Federation came to a head in March, when team members filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against USSF. -- a move the men’s national team’s player association affirmed in a statement.
Before the women’s national team departed for the World Cup, Rapinoe called the scheduling “ridiculous and disappointing.” U.S. Coach Jill Ellis has also expressed her disappointment to reporters. And Rapinoe again slammed the scheduling decisions Saturday.
“If you really care, are you letting the [pay] gap grow? Are you scheduling three finals on the same day? No, you’re not. Are you letting federations have their teams play two games in the four years between each tournament? No, you’re not,” Rapinoe said. “That’s what I mean about the level of care. You need attention and detail and the best minds that we have in the women’s game, helping it grow every single day.”
Rapinoe said the World Cup final should be “cancel everything day,” calling the decision to play all three games Sunday “terrible scheduling for everyone. As people who work in football, play in football, that is a terrible idea to put everything on the same day. In every way.”
But for Berhalter, the day provided an opportunity for a win in his first meaningful competition since taking the reins as U.S. men’s coach in December. Sharing the spotlight with the hugely successful compatriots was a benefit. Berhalter’s team supported the U.S. women’s team from afar, and Sunday had “the opportunity to be soccer day in America,” he said.
“It’s great,” Berhalter said Wednesday after his team’s Gold Cup semifinal win over Jamaica, when asked about both national teams playing on the same day. “It’s rare. It doesn’t happen that often that you get two teams from the same country playing in a continental final and a World Cup final. I think it’s a special day for U.S. soccer.”
Before the final, men’s national team standout Christian Pulisic said he wasn’t worried about the scheduling and that he hoped both teams won Sunday. If that had turned out to be the case, Pulisic said, “I’ll be just as happy,” regardless of how much attention his team might get.
The U.S. women’s team has been a dominant force on the world stage, advancing to five of the eight World Cup finals since the tournament began in 1991. During the knockout round of the Gold Cup, Berhalter said there are “lessons to be learned” from the women’s players and the confidence they showed in France.
After the women won a fourth title Sunday, Ellis pointed toward how the Americans’ development in the men’s and women’s game came at much different time compared with the rest of the world. While the United States was among the first to commit to the women’s game as it gained traction in the past few decades, the American men have had to chase nations with soccer cultures that date back far longer.
“But I have utmost faith in our new coach,” Ellis said of Berhalter in a news conference after the World Cup final. “I think he has a really good sense of the American player and also the benefits of the players that are playing over in Europe. I have no doubt because what’s common is the American spirit. Whether it’s male or female, I think both teams embody that.”