Falling in Love With Laurie Chalupney

So I really don't much mind dragging my butt out of bed at 5AM to watch a women's soccer game. It's the Olympics, and who among us can't get into the drama, the pageantry and the spirit of the Greatest Festival of Sports in the Universe (note: readers on Alpha Centari please direct their hate mail to huss@bigsoccer.com)?

On the other hand, sitting there bleary eyed while not even the dogs think it's worth getting up - "You go on, man, we'll be along in a couple hours" - and finding yourself watching field hockey or a couple 110 lb. Greco-Roman wrestlers from former Soviet Republics is, well, not my idea of time well spent.

It's not that the more esoteric sports don't appeal to me - hell, I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a huge Dressage fan, although I don't normally mention it in some of your rougher drinking establishments - but I wish someone would help me out with this schedule thing.

Why is the 5AM match being played at 7:45? What am I getting wrong here?

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I'm sitting here watching a bunch of nice, fresh-faced American college players scrimmage the US Women's National team.

It's of course fun to watch the team you're rooting for completely dominate their opponent. No question about it.

(And who can resist seeing how many times J.P. Dellacamera can say "PiaSundhage" in any given five minutes. He seems in love with the sound of her name. Or perhaps there's something deeper going on here; perhaps Pia will be filing a restraining order one of these days)

But Women's soccer is very clearly a contest between four or five teams that can compete, another couple more who can hang around due to pure hustle (Japan, China) and a whole bunch of teams who are here for the ceremonies, the free clothes and a quick tour of Tienanmen Square.

Of course, the most interested, eager observer of all this, someone who is jumping up and down on the sofa this morning hollering "MORE! MORE! SCORE MORE!!!" is Tonya Antonucci, the woman whose job it is to take this bunch of women, divvy them up amongst eight teams spread across the US and convince you to buy a couple tickets to come out and see them in person.

It's a sure thing that Antonucci would like to see Natasha Kai out there a lot more, since she's got the kind of saleable profile that Cristie Rampone or Carli Lloyd simply isn't going to give you, but the quality of players like Amy Rodriguez and Laurie Chalupney is so obvious that I'm not sure she's going to need sleeve tatoos to get people to notice it.

(Is there some way we can get Chalupney a quick buzz cut and send her out there for the men's side tomorrow? Good God, I don't think I've ever seen a left back more involved in the run of play - at both ends of the pitch - than she is. What a talent.)

Everybody knows Antonucci has her work cut out for her, and the longer the US team sticks around in this tournament the happier she's going to be.

But if we've learned anything from the WUSA disaster, it's that selling star power and/or peddling women's soccer as a kind of civic duty ("Support Us So That Young Girls Have Role Models" being the worst sales pitch in the history of sports) only gets you so far.

What she needs is women who can play the game, and there's no question she's getting that in spades.