The Women's United Soccer Association's inaugural game Saturday promised to be an exciting matchup between two of its biggest stars - Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain.
Television commercials featured Hamm and Chastain staring each other down. Posters showing Hamm and Chastain's game faces lined Independence Avenue in Washington D.C. all the way to RFK Stadium - where the game between Hamm's Washington Freedom and Chastain's Bay Area CyberRays was held.
Young girls from all over the country traveled to see their athletic idols do what no female soccer player in the world has ever done before - play in a professional game.
Some of those 34,148 fans made my 45-minute trip from my home in Fairfax, Va., feel like a walk across the street. Families came from as far as Dallas to see the WUSA kick off its season. The girls sitting in the seats behind me were from Raleigh and spent Easter weekend in D.C. just for Saturday's game.
The first thought that went through my mind was "Didn't they know there is a game in Chapel Hill next weekend?"
But many girls just couldn't wait.
And rightly so. History was made. A bald eagle flew into the stadium before the kickoff. Michelle Akers, the godmother of women's soccer, kicked out the first ball. D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams declared Saturday "Washington Freedom Day."
I just hope those girls weren't expecting to see an exciting soccer match. Because even with all the excitement surrounding Saturday's festivities, the actual game was a bore.
The Freedom didn't get a single shot off in the first half. In 90 minutes of play, only one goal was scored. And it was the result of a penalty kick.
For those who don't know soccer, a penalty kick is pretty much the equivalent of a free throw. People do miss, but they aren't really supposed to. And it's not very exciting.
Granted, the kick did come after Hamm drew a controversial foul off Chastain in the goal box (congrats to the promoters for calling that face-off).
But I watched in the stands as the 1996 Olympic team claimed the gold medal in Athens, Ga. I cheered from my living room when Hamm, Chastain and team won the 1999 World Cup.
No doubt about it, those games were the best soccer I've seen.
The play wasn't as rough as men's, and probably never will be, but the women developed their own skilled game - one worth watching.
Saturday's game - the 90 minutes that both teams were on the field - wasn't really worth watching.
And that's coming from a true fan.
My hands shook the first time I met Mia Hamm. It was on Fetzer Field as I interviewed UNC coach Anson Dorrance after a women's soccer game. Even though she stood only an inch taller than I, she was still larger than life.
But her image, and that of her fellow national team members, can only last so long. It can't carry an entire professional league.
Yes, it was the first game. Team chemistry is still developing and so are many of the newer athletes.
But Hamm, Chastain and the rest of the eight-team league are in big trouble if more action doesn't occur on the field.
Pre-game promotions are great. The league is trying to appeal to a younger generation, so go ahead and pack the stadium with colorful pictures and famous people. Keep handing out free towels at the gates (I was certainly running out of clean ones).
But deliver on the field. When all the excitement about the new league dies down, that's what matters.
Kelly Lusk can be reached at email@example.com.
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