Brandi Chastain tells her story of growing up obsessed with the sport despite the lack of opportunities. In addition to Chastain, USWNT stars past and present including Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd and Briana Scurry also appear.
We hear a similar, but even more extreme — in terms of the lack of opportunities — account from Japanese former player and current coach Asako Takakura. She is one of a number of Japanese women’s stars who appear in this episode.
Tough act to follow
While “Belief” was not quite as captivating as “Redemption,” the Rwanda Liverpool Reds tale of episode 1, it still provided an interesting look at two stories. Many U.S. fans know the 99ers and the teams that followed well. The story of how Japan came to be a women’s soccer power — and the 2011 WWC champ — was one that viewers Stateside probably did not know nearly as well.
Early in the episode, we learn about the scarcity of opportunities for players — and interest from fans — prior to the 1999 World Cup.
A strong finish
The second half of the episode is much more compelling, as we learn about the impact that Chastain and Co.’s success in ’99 had on young Japanese players, including Homare Sawa. Before later becoming captain of the 2011 Japan team that beat none other than the U.S. in that year’s final, Sawa – inspired by the 99ers – came to the U.S. to play for the Atlanta Beat of the Women’s United Soccer Association.
The episode wraps up by focusing on Japan’s run in ’11, which took place not long after the Great East Japan Earthquake that March. Both the footage of the disaster and the Japanese players’ accounts of taking the field in those circumstances make for a powerful conclusion to “Belief.”
And without spoiling anything, Solo’s recollection of a moment after the U.S.’s heartbreaking loss to Japan in the final gives this series its second extremely moving conclusion in as many episodes.
An interesting decision
While I wouldn’t call this episode a letdown by any means, it’s in an unenviable position as the follow-up to the Rwanda story.
That brings up an interesting question: I wonder how the order of these was decided by Amazon/the filmmakers themselves, writer and co-creator John Carlin and creative director James Erskine. On one hand, it makes sense to grab viewers by starting with what has to be the most powerful episode of the six.
The flip side is the “hangover effect” for anyone who goes directly from “Redemption” to “Belief.” It’s also possible that these are not meant to be watched in any particular order. Either way, the first two episodes of “This Is Football” are both worth a look, regardless of how tough it will be to top the first one.