Monday, July 11, 2011

U.S. Women Embody American Spirit

Abby Wombach scored in the dying moments.
It was almost as though a script was written to bring women’s soccer and the U.S. Women’s National Team back into the limelight. If there was such a script, then the team played out there roles perfectly.

It was in dramatic fashion that the United States took the lead in the second minute of the match, only to find themselves down a player and two goals into the last minute of the second overtime. Yet despite the roller coaster pace of the match, the US Women continued to believe… and they road that belief to a goal that would tie the game and send it to PK’s.
Coach Pia Sundhage after the game, “It’s hard to put together all the thoughts I have. I want to talk about how emotional I became. There’s something to be said about this team. This American attitude of pulling everything together and bringing out the best performance in each other is contagious. I am very, very proud and I’m very, very happy to be the coach for the U.S. team.”

In front of 25,598 fans in Dresden, Germany, the US took the lead on a Brazilian own goal by Daiane. From that moment on, it was a battle. The ladies of the US met their match in a feisty Brazilian team led by Marta. The two teams went back and forth and when the whistle for halftime blew, the US was still in the lead 1-0.

As the team returned to the field for the second half the five time World Player of the Year Marta, lead her team in an assault at the USWNT goal. The turning point of the game came when Rachel Buehler received a straight red for apparently denying a goal scoring opportunity. Replays showed the foul to be soft at best raising questions as to whether the card and the ensuing PK was just. More questions were raised when Hope Solo, who was amazing throughout the match, made the initial save only to have the referee deny the save. Apparently Shannon Boxx stepped into the box (ironic) but that had little to do with the shot or Solo’s save. Marta buried the second PK and the game was now tied 1-1 and the USWNT down a player.

Highlights here: http://youtu.be/eUIEh-Dp3XY

Despite being down a player a new fire was lit under the American ladies as they went on to control much of the game; their superior fitness allowing them to stay competitive. Regular time ended and the game would move to overtime. Strangely, it was the Brazilians who looked exhausted.


Hope Solo with a penalty kick save.

However, tired though they were, the brilliance of Marta shone through as she found a way to chip a ball over two defenders and it bounced in off the post to give the Brazilians the lead in the 92nd minute. It should be noted, that though Marta’s soccer talent is currently unmatched, replays showed her to consistently play dirty and sneak fouls along with dives into her game. A shame such a reputable player would stoop to such a weak level of soccer.

As extra time wore on, the undermanned Americans continued to control the run of play and they pushed up consistently. The Brazilian goalkeeper was forced into several key saves and it looked as though they would go on to the next round, eliminating the American ladies.

It wasn’t to be though as Megan Rapinoe, who was stellar on the day, sent in a curling cross in the dying minutes of stoppage time (in extra time) that found Abby Wambach who made no mistake heading the ball home. The goal stood and the largely pro-American crowd erupted in cheers that the U.S. Women’s National Team had battled through poor calls and adversity to send the match to penalty kicks.

Abby Wambach on her goal: “Megan Rapinoe just put that ball on my head. Luckily I didn’t miss and the rest is history. I guess. We had the momentum going into penalties.”

With the two teams to take penalty kicks, fans had to be excited as USA clearly held the advantage with Hope Solo in goal. It was Solo’s save against Daiane, who will likely want to forget the entire match, was all the Americans needed. All five of the American shooters put their shots into the net and sent the USWNT in to the semi-finals to face France.

The USWNT have a belief about them.
The win allows USWNT fans a chance to do several things. The first is they can put the obsurdity of the referee behind them and not dwell on what was and what could have been. Second, it gives them a confidence that they lacked as they came back from a goal and a man (woman) down. Third, it allows them to shrug off some of the pressure they must have felt from the previous meeting against Brazil, in which they lost badly.

Pia Sundhage now faces a challenge of having the ladies put the emotions behind them and stay focused on the job at hand: a dangerous showdown with a France team on an extra day of rest. One thing is for sure though, the USWNT likely awoke many of those same casual fans the 1999 team did in their run. More Americans will be watching the next match.

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