One Day After the Near Miracle in Dresden

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.

[vsw id="ydBvRFNeMKc" source="youtube" width="600" height="550" autoplay="no"]

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 men women.  

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?

21 thoughts on “One Day After the Near Miracle in Dresden

  1. StarCityFan

    If nothing else, this past weekend should silence – for a while, at least – the soccer chauvinists who claim the women’s game is slow and boring.

    Reply
    1. Sol Muser

      On World Football Daily, which has never been a huge supporter of the women’s game, the commentators spent the first hour today talking about the Women’s World Cup. They said it was far more enjoyable than the Copa America, which is something I thought I would never hear.

      Reply
      1. Jenna Pel Post author

        That’s so awesome. I’ve listened to WFD since 2008 and clearly remember them making some fairly sexist comments in the past. I haven’t been able to listen to Kenny and Robert/Sophie since the WWC started, but that’s great to hear.

        Reply
      1. Craig

        As a renewed fan to women’s soccer, whether or not the US wins the world cup is not relevant to my sticking around. Its all about being able to know the players and be invested in them, which the group stages and of course the Brazil game has allowed. But, since there are so many soccer options, being able to continue to stay in touch with the players from the USWNT will probably determine whether I stick with it, so TV appearances for the NT and pro games are critical (also WPS getting the stuff together would be helpful although I only know as much as I have read in the last week or so, so maybe its not as bad as it appears). And blogs like this one also help b/c it allows you to follow the sport without having to depend on ESPN or other mainstream media outlets which will almost certainly ignore the sport after next weekend until the Olympics come around.

        Reply
  2. Angie

    Hope said in a radio interview today that the referee’s official reasoning was, indeed, claims that she stepped off the line early. If you look at the replay, neither referee is looking at the players lining up. The AR is looking at Hope, the center is looking at Cristiane. Encroachment by a US player did occur, but it wasn’t observed by a referee. I’m still not certain what Hope’s card was for. Whether it was for encroachment or dissent.

    Great stuff, Jenna. Especially this:
    “When it comes to this team, predictions are meaningless. You just have to enjoy the ride.”

    Reply
    1. cambridge_footie

      Boxx was behind Rampone. It was Rampone that encroached first. If you follow the play after the save you can see it is # 3.

      Reply
    2. Marshall

      Just watched a famous brazilian referee (Arnaldo Cezar Coelho) commenting on Solo’s card: according to him, the rule states that, if a GK leaves the box to complain, he/she automatically gets a yellow card.

      Reply
      1. Phoenix

        But did Hope leave the box to complain or to celebrate ?
        Btw, am I the only one who noticed that Hope Solo’s gloves didn’t have “Solo” written on them this time (like before) but “memories” ?

        Reply
        1. Marshall

          I’ve just watched a replay on youtube and I can’t tell you if she left the area or not. Apparently, she did. The camera focus on the referee, who looks to the side of the box area, starts walking (then you see Hope Solo and the lineswoman walking towards the ref) and shows her the yellow card.

          It appears that Solo went to the lineswoman to complain. If she left the box, then it was a right call.

          I’ve just realized I’ve recorded the match on my DVR (and decided not to watch again for obvious reasons). I’ll watch that part of the tape to find out… not that it matters right now, just to understand what happened.

          Reply
  3. TC

    Jenna, Technical question: I can never see the pictures you embed. Any idea how I make them appear? Or do you have a link that I could use to go out to the source material? Thanks

    Reply
  4. Alex

    I think the ref on the field is looking outward towards the defenders and she came running blowing the whistle after the save and the ball went in the direction of the encroacher. A very bad call that did not need to be made.

    I give her more of a pass on the foul on Buehler just because from the refs angle and she gets no replay to view, it would have been hard for her to see their really was not a lot of contact from Buehler and Marta predicably flopped when she realized she would not be getting much if any shot on goal. I don’t know enough about the rulebook to venture a guess as to how harsh the red card was. The PK award could have gone either way, allowing the re-kick messed up a good game.

    Hope said she was gesturing towards her family in the stands thinking they were going to win after her big save. She had no idea what was being called. I think the ref misinterpreted Hope as being angry and gesturing at the AR.

    Ref is lucky she got bailed out later with USA advancing or she really would have stolen the game from the USA.

    Rarely in sports to injustices get that close to ending and then the right side emerges with a win. The USA deserved to win, were the better team and the German fans whistling at Brazil for the rest of the game after the PK save summed up their opinion.

    Pretty amazing to watch the USA playing a man down and on sheer guts and pure determination battle their way through overtime with constant pressure on Brazil and claw their way to an unlikely victory.

    The fans in the stands clearly adopted them and could see an injustice was unfurling before their eyes, the wrong and undeserving team was about to win.

    Reply
  5. Bill

    It’s interesting that you mention ‘borderline jingoistic’ and ‘rally around the flag’. I wonder if that’s the impetus behind most of the attention – that it’s the women’s NATIONAL team. It can all be wrapped in ‘go go USA’ in a way that WPS can’t. The comparison would be the Olympics – once every four years people are all excited about Michael Phelps or Lindsey Vonn, because they’re our stars, and yet in off years they can’t tell you where they ended up at the world championships.

    Did Donovan’s goal against Algeria do much to help MLS? It hasn’t made me any more likely to drive to DC to catch a United game.

    But then again, you see poll results like http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/fp/flashPollResultsState?sportIndex=frontpage&pollId=116953, and you wonder.

    Reply
    1. sasky

      Some people that don’t follow the women’s world cup might be a little confused, two of my co-workers(so call sports fanatics) were talking about it this morning, but they were under the impression that the US had won the world cup. They were a little surprised when I told them that was only a quarter-finals match.

      Reply
  6. Eight

    Women, men, whatever. American’s are egalitarians when it comes to winners. Part of being an American is embracing that goofy patriotism, which Europeans probably look at and laugh: kids.

    Reply
  7. Alyssa

    As always, great piece Jen. Your words kill me. In a good way obv. Love how you slipped in a curse word too lol.

    Reply
  8. Tim Jones

    First of all, congratulations to the USA! From what I’ve seen on YouTube, it would have been a brilliant game to watch live – we’re getting the semis and finals live on TV here in New Zealand, but not the quarters, which annoyed me.

    Secondly, yes, we do credit the New Zealand team’s (relative) success to their unique Kiwi spirit! For those who aren’t aware, this was New Zealand’s third appearance in a Women’s World Cup. They lost all six games played at their two previous World Cups and their first two at this World Cup (albeit these were narrow 1-2 losses), and then came from 0-2 down in the final five minutes of their game against Mexico to draw 2-2 and get their first ever WWC point.

    As a nation of 4 million or so, we’re accustomed to the notion of the “Kiwi battler”, who performs above expectations against richer, more technically adept opponents who have a bigger player base to draw on. The NZ men showed this “Kiwi spirit” with their three draws in pool play in the 2010 Men’s World Cup, and the NZ women showed similar qualities in this Women’s World Cup.

    My sense (as a fan, not an insider) is that women’s football really took off in New Zealand when this country staged the first U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2008. Male football fans, largely sceptical before the tournament began, really got behind the NZ team and the tournament in general – even though football is not the #1 winter sport here, there were excellent turnouts to watch the high-quality, uncynical, attacking football on show. I was at my local stadium on a night of howling wind and rain to watch Rosie White score a hat-trick in NZ’s 3-1 defeat of Colombia during the tournament, and that game made me a fan of women’s football for life.

    Reply
  9. Tim Donohoo

    Enough with the Hope Solo as the greatest keeper. She is past her prime, which was when she sat on the bench in the 2007 World Cup loss to Brasil, and she is severely overrated. All about the PRESSURE IS US advertising campaign and slling tickets for 2011 WPS season here in the states. Very OVERRATED. She will not even be on the roster come 2015 Canada unless, once again, they want to sell tickets. Bottom line- $$$$$$. And please get rid of Shannon Boxx. Penalty kick artist? Come on!

    Reply

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