I received this book via Goodreads First Reads program in exchanged for an honest review.
The premier women’s national team in the world and the gold standard all are judged upon, saved soccer in the United States not that US Soccer cares to pay them for it. The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Change Soccer by Caitlin Murray reveals the struggles and triumphs of the United States Women’s National Team from its inception through to the present day both on the field and within the confines of power within the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The Women’s National Team came together by accident in 1985 for a FIFA sponsored mini-tournament in Italy, from that small start began the rise of the powerhouse of Women’s soccer. The circumstances around this beginning would color the program in the eyes of U.S. Soccer as being unimportant for decades to comes and the uncaring concern of FIFA for developing the Women’s game was another hindrance, including calling the first Women’s World Cup anything but. Yet beginning in 1996 with the inclusion of Women’s soccer in that year’s Olympics in Atlanta, the U.S. Women would begin changing the face of the sport in the American consciousness. The pivotal moment came in 1999 with the third World Cup tournament taking place on home soil, without much hype brought about by either FIFA or U.S. Soccer, it was the players themselves that for half a year prior to the tournament promoted it in every city that would host games with clinics and friendlies that made the tournament a success in the beginning but also put pressure on the team itself to perform on the field. The victory of the U.S. Women in 1999 followed by the 2000 gold medal saved the sport of soccer in the United States—this from a Hall of Fame men’s player—after the U.S. Men’s disastrous 1998 World Cup performance. Yet after all their success, the women weren’t paid better nor given better overall treatment by U.S. Soccer. This trend would continue until present; the U.S. Women would continually have success while the U.S. Men would struggle though it was the latter that U.S. Soccer would treat like princes. The repeated failures of women’s professional leagues, two sabotaged by Major League Soccer, has been a financial burden for women players and the third attempt funded and run by U.S. Soccer has become a bargaining chip between both players and federation in the long running pay equality struggle between the two for almost two decades.
Chronicling the ups and downs both on and off the field of the USWNT in a readable manner was not an easy task for Murray. Devoting herself to the “Team” as a whole and its members at a given time, Murray would only give brief biographical sketches of historically important and momentarily prominent players but enough to help the overall work. Dealing with the team dynamic over the decades and the team vs. federation battle over the same period, Murray was able to shift between one and the other seamlessly mainly because both go together hand-to-glove. The financial issues that are prominent in the news today are nothing new between the two, it is just that the players have decided to come out in public including using U.S. Soccer’s own 2016 budget showing the organization is only profitable because of the Women’s team, a situation even more pronounced after the Men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. However, the team dynamics of players relationship with themselves and with their coaches shows that Women’s team is not immune to human nature and egos especially as seen in the 2007 World Cup in which the veteran’s backstabbed Hope Solo and then convinced the team to shun her when she spoke out for having been replaced in goal for a semifinal match.
The National Team is quick-paced biography and history of a group of players that join, stay, then leave to make room for the next generation, but everyone deals with the same burden to succeed and fight U.S. Soccer. Caitlin Murray’s gives the reader both an overview and intimate look at the team, it’s accomplishments, and failures. With the 2019 World Cup just around the corner, this is a must read for fans of the best Women’s Team in the world.