Sports Lounge.eps

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team all but putting the sport of women’s soccer on the map.

When Brandi Chastain ripped off her shirt following her game-winning penalty kick over China that gave the Americans their second straight World Cup win in front of 100,000 fans at the Rose Bowl, it became the touchstone for women’s soccer.

For a long while, the Americans were the class of women’s soccer as the traditional soccer-power nations refused or dragged their feet when it came to promoting the women’s game. Yet the United States flourished — despite the U.S. Soccer Federation’s reluctance to fully embrace the women’s team when it comes to salary and facilities.

Two decades later, the rest of the world has caught up. Team USA opens the defense of their 2015 World Cup title today against Thailand — who is not one of those teams that has caught up to the Americans. While the U.S. may still be the favorite for the 2019 title, the Americans are hardly alone or even overwhelming favorites. The Americans, along with host France, are the odds-on favorite to win it all, and while the United States may still be the No. 1 team in the world, France may be the best team in the world right now, having won 14 of its last 15 games – which includes a win over the Americans.

England, another strong side, also has notched a recent victory over the U.S. recently. Germany, Japan, Norway and Sweden continue to be among the world’s elite teams. Many soccer federations have strongly supported their women’s programs over the last two decades and even the sports biggest European men’s teams have embraced the women, with men’s teams from England’s Premiere League and France’s Ligue 1 have formed women’s teams, giving their players to chance to hone their skills against high-level competition. Gone are the days when countries would simply cobble together women’s teams every couple of years to prep for the World Cup.

And when it comes to American soccer, you won’t find any better than the women’s national team — which is light years ahead of their male counterparts, who continue to flail with a rotating cast of coaches and dubious roster decisions. The US men have looked downright dreadful as they prepare for this summer’s Gold Cup tournament, hitting their nadir Sunday with an abysmal performance against Venezuela, which is hardly a world-beater. This on the heels of a lethargic loss to Jamaica a couple days prior.

Right now, the American women are the face of US soccer and the Women’s World Cup gives them a chance to show their prowess on the world stage.

***

Well, there will be one more game at the Coliseum as the Golden State Warriors held off the Toronto Raptors by a point, 106-105, in Game 5 to force Game 6 of the NBA Finals back in Oakland Thursday night.

Kevin Durant finally returned and made an impact — until he re-injured the leg that has kept him out the last several weeks. To those who thought KD was milking it, you can sit down now. It’s obvious he couldn’t go before tonight and anyone who has ever had a calf injury will tell you that all it takes is one little tweak to wreck it again. And KD did.

But the Warriors persevered without him, getting Klay Thompson and Steph Curry back-to-back 3-pointers to rally the team in the final minute.

Now the question is, can the Warriors continue this momentum? Well, we can all but guarantee Durant will no longer be an issue. He is, for sure, done for this season. But as long as the Warriors have Curry and Thompson, they have a shot. They proved it five years ago without KD. Can they do it again? Time will tell.

***

A couple weeks ago, I wrote in this space that the San Francisco Giants, while not good, we’re at least interesting.

The next day, the Giants started a seven-game slide that took any kind of interest out of the team as they are now firmly buried in the basement of the National League West while the Los Angeles Dodgers put their Northern California rivals firmly in their rearview mirror.

Which leads me to Sunday’s demoralizing 1-0 Giants loss to L.A. What made the loss even more brutal was Madison Bumgarner’s childish reaction to Max Muncy’s monster home run in the first inning, a run that stood up for the rest of the game.

But after Muncy’s no-doubt-about-it shot deep into McCovey Cove, Bumgarner had the audacity to literally chase Muncy around the bases.

Stay classy, MadBum.

Credit to Muncy for not being intimidated by Bumgarner’s bully tactics, as he egged on the Giants lefty as he rounded the bases. Postgame, Muncy had the ultimate comeback: if Bumgarner didn’t like it, go fish the ball “out of the ocean.”

Bumgarner’s act is tired. Who is he to think no one should hit a homer off him? I think he’s watched “Bull Durham” one too many times.

Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: nathan@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117.

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