Updated: Jan 1, 2020
I don’t get a lot of chances to watch my favorite soccer team.
I cheer for the French national team, a fact that usually catches people off guard. An American women’s soccer fan who doesn’t cheer for the U.S.? Unlike so many of my friends and co-workers, it wasn’t watching the United States play soccer that made me fall in love with the game. It wasn’t watching Abby Wambach take shots or Hope Solo make incredible saves, it wasn’t watching Amy Rodriguez with her crazy pace or Becky Sauerbrunn defending that backline.
I became a women’s soccer fan during the 2015 Women’s World Cup. I saw that FOX Sports was running the games on their stations, so I decided to turn on France vs. England in the group stage. And I fell in love. It was watching Wendie Renard defend the backline and Amandine Henry dominate the midfield that made me fall in love with women’s soccer. It was Eugénie Le Sommer and Louisa Nécib and Claire Lavogez and my first favorite soccer player, Laure Boulleau. I didn’t care if I was “supposed” to cheer for the U.S., France stole my heart and they would always be my squad.
When I watched France take on Germany in the Quarterfinals, it didn’t feel fair. This should have been a final, but life isn’t fair. These women were warriors. We played through 90 minutes, and then 120, until finally we stepped up for penalties. In the end, it was 21-year-old Claire Lavogez, a player I had identified with deeply in that tournament, who missed the penalty for France. Germany went on and we went home.
It was one of the most painful matches of my life. And I think I cried a little bit, but I knew that this was only the start of my relationship with this team.
I didn’t know that it was gonna be my last time watching Laure Boulleau play. I didn’t fully understand at the time how much effort was gonna be required to keep up with France, how few chances I’d get to see them. I tried to make the most of it. In 2016, I got to watch them in the Olympics. During the first She Believes Cup, I went to Tampa to see them play in person for the first time. I followed them through the Euros, but really it was all building towards this moment.
I couldn’t wait to see these women take the world’s biggest stage in their own country.
A lot of people thought we could win this World Cup. I hate to be a pessimist, but I didn’t. I wanted them to with all my heart, but I didn’t think the French women had made the necessary changes to win on this stage. We had seen a lot of retirements, brought in a lot of youngsters, and had a head coach who had not yet proved she could win on this level.
They did everything they could to prove me wrong.
And I’m so god damn proud of this team.
They couldn’t avoid a quarterfinal collision with the U.S. Like 2015, it felt unfair. Why was this in the quarterfinals? But there was no time to dwell on that.
The U.S. came out swinging and in the 5th minute, they took the lead. Megan Rapinoe launched a free kick that I knew instantly was going in. The cluster of players blocked Sarah Bouhaddi’s vision. The ball went right through Amandine Henry’s legs and past an outstretched Bouhaddi. 1-0 USA.
The French fell into a familiar rhythm. They dominated possession, but they couldn’t finish. They didn’t even get a lot of great shots off. You don’t usually see the U.S. allowing possession and defending like they did, but it worked. The French out possessed the US, they took more shots, they had more corners. But it wasn’t enough.
In the 65th minute, Rapinoe got her second goal. The French defenders scrambled to stop Sam Mewis and somehow left Rapinoe wide open. She took her shot and it sailed past Bouhaddi. I broke down in tears because I knew that was the end.
I was messaging my friends and family, telling them that the game was over, that there was no way France could score two goals in 25 minutes. Just as I started to accept our fate, Wendie Renard found the back of the net. She seemed to be flying across the field, both in actually scoring the goal and in the celebration.
I screamed and cried again.
The Renard goal was one of those moments. It felt like a personal reminder not to give up. It was the French team’s way of reminding me why I fell in love with them. And even though we didn’t win, and I cried for a third time as I watched the French players shake hands with the U.S. team after the final whistle, it didn’t feel like the world was collapsing around me anymore.
The French will be back.
Last week, I said thank you to Marta. This week, I say thank you to France. You didn’t win it all, but you played your hearts out. You reminded me why I love this team, why they are my favorite soccer team in the world. And for that, I am forever grateful.