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After a strong showing by the United States throughout the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Americans seemingly are taking an interest in a sport that many have viewed as nothing more than a right of passage for suburban dwelling children.
The surge of pride for the U.S. Men’s National Team has been viewed by experts as more than a fleeting infatuation with a game and a sign of good things to come for the sport in this country. America is now home to a men’s team that made it to the Round of 16 in two consecutive World Cups and a goalkeeper recognizable to more than just die-hard fans.
Large amounts of coverage concerning the 2014 World Cup began when news broke that Landon Donovan had been left off the U.S. roster for Brazil. Having played for the national team just last year and a felt presence on the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS, many were shocked. Donovan was arguably responsible for attracting much of Team USA’s notoriety during his tenure on the national team, where he racked up 57-57-114 totals in 140 international starts, all between 2000 and 2013.
With each introduction to the story of Donovan not going to Brazil, commentators, newscasters and writers alike hailed him as the “all-time U.S. leading goal scorer.” Impressive as his resume may be, the truth is that he is not deserving of the title. Abby Wambach is in fact the U.S. leading goal scorer with 167 goals, followed by Mia Hamm (158), Kristine Lilly (130), Michelle Akers (105) and Tiffeny Millbrett (100). To give Donovan the title of all-time leading goal scorer in this country is simply inaccurate without the addition of one word: Men’s.
The first women’s World Cup was in 1991. The USWNT won it all that year, and since then they have largely dominated the international field. They have won two subsequent World Cup titles and are currently ranked as the No. 1 team in the world by the FIFA Women’s World Rankings. The men’s World Cup began in 1930 when Uruguay beat Argentina in their home country and the all time leading goal scorer for the men, by a large margin, is Iran’s Ali Daei with 100 international goals.
The history of the tournament and the sport is obviously different between the men and women. On average, men’s games are lower scoring than women’s, women’s careers tend to last longer than men’s and the USWNT tends to go farther in tournaments, allowing for more points to be racked up than their male counterparts. But since when did excelling in your sport and consistently dominating the field make the women’s accomplishments any less than the men’s? Wambach and Donovan have both played in three World Cup tournaments. Four former and current USWNT members are among the top 10 goal scorers in the world. Not just when compared to their female counterparts, but when compared to men as well. Donovan is currently in the top 20 of highest scoring male players.
None of this should take away from what Donovan has accomplished, but it does illustrate how easily the accomplishments of female athletes can be forgotten. As popularity for the sport grows in this country, it is imperative that this one simple clarifier be included in our discussion: not so women’s achievements are established as “women’s,” but to counter the deeply entrenched misconception of the male position as the baseline.
Some of our first interactions with inequalities and prejudices come on the court or field where we first find ourselves learning an organized sport. Creating a culture in sports where female and male athletes aren’t misrepresented based on the idea that the male position is neutral starts with the simple recognition of fact. This has the ability to fight the pervading sexist attitudes women encounter not just in soccer, but in basketball and golf, as players and coaches, as lawyers and doctors, politicians and programmers.
Without simple clarification, the accomplishments of women get left out of the discussion. The all-time leading goal scorer in the United States is Abby Wambach. The male all-time leading goal scorer in the United States is Landon Donovan.