Women’s football | 5,624 miles, 7 goals, 2 Portlands and 1 mole (U.S. v. Ukraine)

“The mole,” who hails from Ukraine, offered a different version, blaming the bureaucrats back in Kyiv, officials that he labeled as “amateurs.” In our conversation and through e-mail exchanges, “the mole,” who spoke to players, the coach and officials, explained that one of the soccer-federation officials confused Portland, Maine, with Portland, Oregon; hence, instead of taking a direct flight from Moscow to Seattle, they flew by way of London, Newark and Salt Lake City. Thus, even discounting the unexpected delay in London, the journey took 36 hours. Furthermore, an official from the federation got drunk on the way to the airport and decided at the last minute not to go.

When an international game takes place, the assumption is that the players will be the best that each country has. The American team filled this bill, with a successful weave of veterans such as Aly Wagner and Kate Markgraf (née Sobrero) with several young players such as Nicole Barnhart and Lori Chalupny. In the case of the Ukrainian team this was not the case. Comparing the roster of the team that played in qualifiers for the past summer’s European Championships and in the last few years with the team that played in Portland, I discovered significant changes.

Of the seven players who scored in the run-up to the UEFA event, only two were included in the current team, Vira Dyatel and Lyudmyla Pekur. Teams go through changes, but in this case it was because many of the best players were previously engaged. Top players such as defender Olena Mazurenko and midfielder Nadiya Myshchenko stayed with their German team FC Nürnberg, and several other players were occupied with the games of the Russian league and were not released by their teams. Other players, belonging to the second-strongest team in Ukraine, Chernigov, were with their team in Italy, training and playing against local teams.

According to “the mole,” the team that played in Portland was not the national team but mostly the team from Kharkov, and “about them speaking Ukrainian—they could tell that to the Marines. Each and every one of them spoke Russian.” About a quarter of the population of the Ukraine is ethnically Russian, but I was not able to ascertain if the players were Russian in their nationality, and I was not able to contact the Marines, as they were mired in the Iraq quagmire and had more pressing tasks.

In the press box, my questions about the unequal conditions did not arouse much interest. “This is how it is in the world of sports,” commented the representatives of the U.S. Soccer Federation, taking a short break from counting the goals raining on the visitors. This attitude was shared by the other media representatives. My question why the game was not postponed by a day, to allow the exhausted and jet-lagged visitors to recover—as it was a “friendly,” there were no tournament time constraints—was met by a bemused look, as if I were a visitor from the first days of association football, a time traveler from Victorian Britain.

Consenting to share the most well-known knowledge, the USSF spokesperson added that ESPN was broadcasting the game live and interference with the network’s holy schedule was an impossibility. ESPN is owned by Disney, so I could have conferred with the Magic Kingdom and tried wishing upon a star, but I said no more as the game had only been going on for about 15 minutes and I wanted to remain in the clubhouse and enjoy the beverages and sandwiches.

And after all, the situation was not a complete surprise. One of the new realities of the game in the electronic age is that games and players are subservient to the financial considerations of television networks and their corporate advertisers, as World Cup games played in South and Central America in midday heat, to accommodate the lucrative European markets, can attest.

For most of the 4,000 fans, a large proportion of which were teenage girls, and for the partisan media, the game’s highlight was the 57th-minute goal scored by Tiffeny Milbrett, who grew up in Portland and played at the University of Portland. It raised her international tally to 100, achieved through 201 games, and put her in a select group of players. This achievement was all that the game offered, since it lacked any competitive value.

Page 2 of 3 | Previous page | Next page