Boys, take notes: Why women’s soccer is light-years ahead

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You should be watching the World Cup.

For the next two weeks, France will host the knockout stages of fútbol’s top competition, where a plethora of elite players will try to capture a global crown. It’s entertainment, drama and tragedy. It’s the greatest show on earth, and it is the best football you will ever see.

Oh, yeah, and the greatest soccer you will ever see is played by women.

That’s right. The Women’s World Cup is better than its male counterpart. It’s better than the Champions League. It deserves that kind of respect, a type of respect that the women’s game has not been given.

Times are changing. Women’s football in Europe is a growing force, behind superpowers like Lyon, Arsenal and Wolfsburg. More people are watching, and more people are paying attention. The United States boasts the robust and successful NWSL.

But there’s still disparity in treatment. Ada Hegerberg, one of the best soccer players in the world, elected not to participate in the World Cup for Norway in protest of the perceived gaps in treatment and wages between the men’s and women’s teams in Norway. Twenty-eight members of the U.S. women’s team have filed a lawsuit alleging gender discrimination. Both women’s squads have won a World Cup. Those countries’ men’s teams didn’t even qualify for the 2018 edition.

The discrepancies extend beyond formal treatment of players. Take the discussion around the United States’ 13-0 thrashing of Thailand to open the team’s World Cup campaign. Criticism immediately emerged regarding the Americans’ continued celebrations and goal scoring. Was it necessary? Was it impolite? Why were they continuing to run up the score?

Questions like this are demeaning. This is a professional sport, and in tournaments, goal differential can be a decisive tiebreaker. Asking these questions of the women’s team compares it to youth leagues that employ mercy rules and the “everybody wins” mantra. This is the World Cup, and only one team wins.

The men’s World Cup does not feature such criticisms. When Germany swamped Brazil, 7-1, in the 2014 World Cup semifinals, none of the same complaints were present. Women’s competitions deserve the same level of media coverage.

But I did say the Women’s World Cup was better. Not just equivalent, but superior.

The men’s game has stagnated. Strategies have overspecialized. José Mourinho’s “parking the bus” and Pep Guardiola’s “tiki-taka” are two examples of tactics that yield results and trophies but that can also be eminently boring to behold.

Male players exploit the rules, flopping, diving and attempting to scratch whatever meager advantage they can to score goals instead of focusing on playing the game.

There are men’s teams and managers who promote exciting football. Legends like Lionel Messi will always dazzle, and Jürgen Klopp’s “gegenpress” is the soccer equivalent of a Berkeley squirrel after about 10,000 shots of cocaine-infused espressos.

But women’s football puts all of that to shame. I mean, just watch one of the World Cup games. There’s no bandying around. Those players mean business, and that comes in the form of direct, attacking football. It’s as if the true purpose of soccer has been rediscovered: the incredibly simple concept of actually trying to put the ball in the back of the net.

There’s rarely any diving. In an age when men injure their shin guards in the worst imitation of pain this side of a science fiction B-movie, the women play a hard, physical game that is untainted by misplaced Olympic high divers.

The women’s game is more entertaining, and as an American, I have the pleasure of rooting for a national team that easily rises above mediocrity. I can only hope that men everywhere watch more women’s soccer and take lengthy notes.

Jasper Sundeen covers track and field. Contact him at [email protected].