For the Win
Lainey and Gabe are two of the foremost soccer stars in the U.S. Gabe is known for his charm, while Lainey is more known for spitting fire both on and off the field. When the two of them end up in the same city, the competition for both fans and field space heats up and leads to some off-the-field bonding where Lainey discovers there is more than meets the eye with the charismatic Gabe. When tensions and misunderstandings threaten to derail their newfound joy, can they find their happily ever after?
Spoiler alert: of course they can. This is not a cliffhanger book, not a book where the author flirts with the happily-ever-after but never delivers, nothing like that. This is a sparkling and engaging contemporary sports romance guaranteed to delight anyone for whom this subgenre scratches a proverbial itch.
For the Win’s basic plot is thus: Seattle now has two professional soccer teams, male and female, but only one really good facility. Additionally, the management of the women’s team is concerned about building a fan base, thinking that the men’s team has a good following already and that fan bases are a finite resource. This assumption, by the way, is a common one and I’ve heard it referenced a lot about women’s professional soccer after the U.S. women’s team won the 2015 World Cup. So to base a plot around this problem is actually really interesting to me.
What is less interesting is how they choose to solve it. The men’s and women’s teams in For the Win engage in a mutli-event Battle of the Sexes. The winner gets to play on the field of their choosing, and the hope and plan is that the publicity will drive fan base growth. There’s a cooking competition, physical challenges, and more. When the idea was first presented in the book, I was deeply skeptical. I believe I even rolled my eyes. While the events themselves turn out to be more engaging than I assumed, it’s still not my favorite part of the story.
What IS my favorite part is the Elizabeth and Darcy style standoff that Lainey and Gabe have for the first bit of the book. This is not a straight retelling of P&P however, so if those kind of stories make you turn away then fear not. This is an enemies-to-lovers story in the grand tradition; Gabe is immediately intrigued but Lainey is immediately turned off. The dance they do for the first part of the story is full of banter and fun to read.
Sadly, Lainey is the weak link in this book. I truly enjoyed her banter and growing relationship with Gabe, and was interested to see the evolution of the relationships with her teammates, but Lainey herself is a bit of a challenge to like. Additionally, the work the author does to make her likeable isn’t really demonstrated in Lainey alone, and is instead done through external interactions. Her self-realizations never come from her own headspace, but instead from comments made by others. But that’s how it often happens for most of us, I’m sure you’re saying. The problem is that with Lainey, the connecting work of external comment to internal musing to attitude change isn’t really linked. It happens, but I didn’t see the work. It makes Lainey come across as cold and mercurial, instead of someone who is deeply insecure of herself. I was constantly told that all her character flaws and the things that make her hard to relate to are because of her work ethic as an athlete, but although author softens some of those sharp edges to make Lainey and Gabe work as a couple, I didn’t really buy the whole process.
Overall though, For the Win is a fantastic sports romance; a good balance of on and off field action, with realistic and nuanced depictions of what life is like as a professional athlete in one of America’s second-tier sports (and I say that as a massive soccer fan, so it’s not judgement, it’s just truth). I found it to be a fun read about two people with real chemistry and an ending that’s just this side of perfect, with enough humanity to make it real.