By now I’ve returned to body after being out of out of it for most of the day yesterday. And the reaction continues. This morning Grantland had two pieces about the match while I was privileged to write about the joy and the agony experienced in the Germany/Japan quarterfinals game.
While that match verged on true greatness, the USA/Brazil result was something else entirely. Here are some thoughts on the 120+ minutes that will forever be remembered with fondness and wonderment.
Living a mid-summer’s dream.
Epically transcendent breakthrough moment, is that you? Because it sure seems so. This heads ESPN Soccer’s front page, this has second billing on SI.com’s home page, it’s become the subject of today’s Outside the Lines episode, Wambach’s header beat out Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit for SportsCenter’s top play of the weekend, a Boston bagel shop is asking Twitter for ingredients for a Hope Solo bagel sandwich (to which somebody cheekily suggested wasabi for bitterness), Ms. Solo is doing interviews with syndicated radio sports programs (and not being asked about 2007!), and reports today indicate that yesterday’s match was the most-watched USWNT game since the 1999 final.
And then there’s this.
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The U.S.’ classic comeback victory could not have come about in a more perfect way. Even had the U.S. blown out Brazil 6-0, it almost certainly would not have seized this much attention.
Remember, this is just a moment. It could all end in two days. But it is so God damn enjoyable today.
Take your “analysis” and do you know what with it.
Leading up to the match, I had written a 1,000+ word preview complete with lots of tactical match-ups and statistics and cynicism. Keep in mind, the U.S. was just coming off that dreadful match against Sweden in which it seemed to have reverted back to its old mediocre form. The defense was terrible. Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd were terrible. How could that back line possibly deal with the pace of Brazil’s forwards? Could the U.S. midfield compete against a unique Brazil midfield that sometimes features as many as seven players? In the end, I decided to keep it to myself because you just never know what you’re going to get with the USA. And yeah, the U.S. pulled through. Shannon Boxx had her best game in ages. Christie Rampone had her best game in ages. Amy LePeilbet had her best game of the tournament. When it comes to this team, predictions are meaningless. You just have to enjoy the ride.
Off on the right foot.
The U.S. got off to a dream start, even if it took a bit of misfortune from Brazil. The early lead gave the U.S. confidence to boss the midfield and find the pockets of space in Brazil’s funky formation. The U.S. wasn’t really creating many chances (A-Rod was A-WOL again), but Brazil wasn’t either. Going into halftime with a 1-0 lead was perfect. The nerves weren’t jangling. Not yet. 0-1.
The lousy letter of the law.
Carli Lloyd was quite fortunate not to draw a red after her Nigel De Jong-like challenge in the first half. But then there was the Rachel Buehler red. Was it an obvious denial of a goal-scoring opportunity? Not really. Marta had gotten a shot off before she hit the ground with her former FC Gold Pride teammate. The referee whistled for the foul, though, and was therefore obligated to produce a card – likely red. ‘Fuck’, Buehler exhaled as referee Jacqui Melksham flourished the card. Down to ten
The encroachment call (if that was genuinely what it was for, which is the subject of conflict) was legitimate, however, and yes, severely harsh. But the replay clearly shows Shannon Boxx (or is it Christie Rampone or Amy LePeilbet?) racing into the area during Cristiane’s run-up to the kick. It made no impact on the penalty kick and Cristiane was probably completely unaware of the encroaching player. Solo then got carded for dissent. Saving two penalties in a row was too much to ask for. 1-1. Extra time.
Magical, majestic, marvelous Marta.
It was too hard to admit immediately after the fact, but Marta’s goal was the work of genius. The way she delicately scooped it up and over her shoulder without even looking? It had the perfect trajectory, too, as it bowed into the far corner. Hope Solo was pissed, but the deception on the ball made it almost impossible to save. There’s only one person in the world that could pull that off and her name is Marta. 2-1.
Dude!!!!!!!!!! I can’t believe it. That header by Waback (?) was unreal. The pass was carried by a soccer god!! Insane! Was the game played live yesterday!? I watched it at 1am
^ A text message I received this morning. The sender had almost certainly never watched the U.S. women play before he happened upon a re-run on ESPN2 last night.
The pass was carried by a soccer god. It must have been. Again, no need to really elaborate on the Rapinoe cross or the Wambach goal. You’ve all seen it. It was all so perfect. 2-2. Penalties.
But we’ve got Hope Solo.
And no one else does. As soon as extra time finally elapsed, there was absolutely no way the U.S. was going to lose in penalty kicks. Not with Hope Solo on the line. It was just a matter of waiting for that wildly acrobatic belief-defying save. It was inevitable. We’ve got Hope Solo.
“Fluent in the language of penalty kicks, too”
Can we just spare a moment for Ali Krieger? The right-back that hadn’t truly cemented her starting position in the squad until early this year? The player that waited a long, long while to re-enter the national team fray because she played abroad? The person who survived a near-death experience in college and who at 23, took her talents to a foreign country which she has since made her home? The U.S.’ second-best player of the World Cup?
And then there was the fact that she was even in the position to take the crucial fifth penalty. Krieger was the least-capped player on the starting line-up, after all, and isn’t exactly known for her goal scoring prowess. But that doesn’t really matter for penalty kicks. Krieger calmly waited for her chance and made the most of it. USA wins.
And then there was Bue.
How emotive. Watching Buehler sob as she embraced Sundhage and Cheney after the match was almost too much. Tears of remorse, tears of relief.
Like a good parent, Pia Sundhage is there.
No need to worry. Again, Sundhage’s nonchalant, jolly attitude becomes the target of criticism when the team plays poorly. Do you remember after the dour China friendly last October? Sundhage corralled the players and told them it was a good game, they all did a good job, she was proud. Really? You’re not going to get on them for playing like crap? You’re going to continue to insist on playing Boxx and Lloyd and LePeilbet at left-back despite previous results?
Maybe more impetus is placed on always playing for each other rather than always playing well. Obviously, it’s worked when it matters most. And when Wambach scored the header and Krieger buried the penalty? She was proud.
USA! USA! USA!
Our Freundlin was in Dresden to take in the U.S.’ match against North Korea when she wrote this:
And here in Dresden there was a heavy American presence, more Uncle Sam hats and USA clothing than could possibly be seen on TV, also many Anglo logos and such on t-shirts, but then we often heard German voices underneath them. My German friends pointed out that still, as always, anything in American is hip, even if that hip nation bombed your city to rubble 70 years ago.
The Rudolf-Harbig Stadion was alive with pro-American sentiments once more. As Ian Darke pointed out in the commentary, many American fans had assumed that the U.S. would win the group, and thus have its quarterfinals match in Augsburg. That didn’t happen, and those fans ended up getting marooned.
So did many “bona fide” Americans miss out on the match? Because it didn’t seem like it, given the loud bellows of USA! USA! USA! and the heavy presence of red, white, and blue in the stands. It also makes me wonder if the U.S. will become the country’s adopted team, now that the host nation is out.
If it’s true that foreign countries project their own individual impressions of what the USA means (whatever that means) onto something like a soccer match, then maybe? The U.S. showed perseverance and toughness and determination and heart. Do others buy into that sense that those qualities are inherently American like we’re so inclined to believe? That may be an incredibly myopic and U.S.-centric view to hold, too.
New Zealand showed a similar amount of heart throughout the tournament, too. Would the team credit its unique Kiwi upbringing and superior New Zealand mentality for that? Not sure, which is why that kind of talk can get really overblown sometimes.
Not just our USWNT anymore?
The USWNT exists in a cozy niche that occupies a sliver of the U.S. soccer fan base. The hardcore ones, at least, and we all have our reasons for being here. And it can sometimes be a real drag.
But perhaps that match will mean that niche will have to be expanded, especially now that the United States has a genuine shot at winning its first World Cup since the heyday of 1999. And what kind of impact will that make?
Last week, Fake Sigi proposed that the women’s game’s struggles in this country are irrevocably linked to a societal shift in attitudes towards gender issues and liberalism.
1999 is gone forever and no matter how glistening our memories are, it’s not coming back. Women’s soccer has operated in an apathetic-to-hostile American environment for the last ten years, irrespective of what’s been happening in the soccer bloc. We need to assume the current level of public interest in the game has a certain level of unalterable inertia.
To summarize that thought (if that’s cool, FS), external cultural factors diminish the chances of having women’s soccer breach the American mainstream again.
The thing is we today live under an administration that’s made strides in the fight for gay rights, women in the workplace, equitable health care, and healthy living habits. Of course, it would be short-sighted to overlook the borderline jingoistic conservative movement that stands in firm opposition to all those things.
But maybe there’s still some hope, despite the cynicism that comes as a result of a fiercely partisan political culture. Maybe a heroic USWNT win will dovetail with a renewed sense of social progress that hasn’t truly been delivered upon despite the promises made in 2008.
The fact remains that a lot of people seem to be interested in this U.S. soccer team, regardless of its gender, and that’s good.
If ever there was a rally around the flag moment, it’s now. After that performance. How will it play to a large segment of the populace that remains somewhat dismissive of women’s soccer? We’ll see.
But most importantly, should another watershed moment arrive by the end of next week, how can we better take advantage of it once the high wears off?