Only a matter of time before this happens in MLB.
Yesterday I witnessed what may be one of the five greatest sporting events I’ll ever see during my lifetime. After having only watched one of their previous three games, I rearranged my weekend so that I could get up to watch the US Women’s soccer team play in their quarterfinal matchup in the Women’s World Cup yesterday against Brazil. With Germany already having been upset the previous day by Japan, the winner of USA/Brazil was likely to coast through and win the whole damn tournament. So I set the alarm for the perfect time, got up, and watched as much coverage as I could heading into the game.
I didn’t have much hope for our team going into the match. The one game I had seen thus far had been the US loss to Sweden and to be quite honest, we did not look like a team that deserved to be moving on with a chance to win it all. We don’t have a player who can get into the middle and make people miss, if that makes any kind of sense. I still don’t know enough about the game of soccer to tell you how the men’s and women’s games differ, but if you’ve watched any kind of professional soccer over the past couple years, you know the importance of having a player like Lionel Messi right now in the men’s game. A player like Messi is important because he’s probably the single greatest player alive at controlling the ball and dribbling straight into a defense and making them miss. These players are few and far between, but it seems to me every great team should have a player like this if they’re going to win a World Cup, male or female. Brazil had this player in Marta (more on her later). The US women were supposed to have one in Abby Wambach, but headed into this quarterfinal matchup she was more threatening to become the Dan Marino of women’s soccer rather than its greatest hero.
The game started off better than any US fan could have hoped for. The Yanks added a goal only two minutes into the contest when a cross from the wing was accidently deflected into Brazil’s goal by their own defender. The USA was up one nil. There were a couple of missed chances from there by both teams until something really interesting happened near the end of the first half. Now, before we go any further, let’s clear up something. Marta is (and it’s not even close) the best women’s soccer player alive right now. She’s the fastest player on the pitch, she has the best “make you miss” moves, and she delivers pinpoint passes along with her remarkable finishing ability. She “has it all.” Near the end of the first half, still down 1-0, Marta decided she had had enough with the United States and basically decided she was going into “eff you” mode. I wish I could tell you the turn of events that eventually led up to all this but it all culminated with her getting a late yellow card in the first half after she was seen screaming at the referee and USA star Abby Wambach who was wallowing on the ground in pain after a hard play. I’m not going to defend Wambach because it is very likely she was just wasting time. From that point on though, Marta was determined to destroy us.
And she largely did.
The second half was dominated by Brazil and there vastly superior attacking line. Marta started to play with a huge chip on her shoulder and it was reflected in her aggressive style of play the rest of the game. They easily penetrated a fairly weak US defense and eventually broke through on a questionable red card halfway through the second half that led to a penalty shot. I don’t know where you stand on the red card. It was a 50-50 play and I’m of course going to give the benefit of the doubt to our defender, but I really wasn’t that angered by it. What really pissed me off though was that unforgivable decision to let the Brazilians get a redo after Hope Solo absolutely stoned the first attempt. At that point I had definitely decided that the game was being called by a group of Soviet referees personally hand-selected by Vladimir Putin. Marta of course buried the second attempt to tie the game 1-1 and celebrated as if she had just won the whole damn tournament after the goal, further pushing herself into the LeBron James/Soviet Hockey team territory of biggest villains in United States sports history.
What was great about all of this, if there can be anything great about absolutely getting screwed by FIFA and it’s puppet referee crew, was that after that moment, nearly every neutral German fan in attendance united behind the US and was suddenly attempting to will them to victory. Remember that a red card results in an automatic ejection in soccer so at this point the US had one less person on the field than Brazil. You rarely see that in international sports, most especially for a country like the United States. But in that moment, it seemed all of Germany was determined to give the US ladies the extra support they’d need to come away with a victory. There was a sense that something special might go down.
Well that sense of something special going down was quickly wiped away in the first period of overtime when Marta (her? again? really??) flicked an incredible goal over a helpless Hope Solo to give Brazil an early 2-1 lead and what seemed at the time to be an easy victory. It was the kind of goal an average player wouldn’t even have the imagination to try, much less convert. At this point in the match I was absolutely inconsolable and shameless in my attitude towards soccer and life in general. I fired off a number of tweets and facebook statuses about how soccer will never catch on in the US because of the amount of cheating that goes on, how Vince McMahon was jealous of FIFA’s writing staff, how David Stern was proud of FIFA’s ability to fix matches, etc. Just a completely miserable exhibition on my part. And I officially resolved that Marta was now the athlete I hated more than any other. I never thought it was possible for a woman to reach the top of that list but for about thirty minutes yesterday, that was the case.
To understand the level of hate is to understand how thoroughly she dominated the match yesterday in all the right ways. She perfectly played the game into the refs hands, as any good star should when they recognize the opportunity. She started diving at the perfect times, wasting time at the best moments, and faking injuries when Brazil most needed to milk the clock. It got so bad that in addition to the German crowd cheering the United States, they actually started to loudly jeer Marta every time she touched the ball. This was territory never before approached in the women’s game! In retrospect, I understand exactly what she was doing. It’s no different than anything Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant tries to pull off in the fourth quarter of a basketball game. All the stars in the NBA know you win games on the free throw line. Marta knew you win games by wasting as much time as possible once you got the lead.
Just when I thought it could get no more shameless on the Brazilians part, one of their defenders (I’m 99% sure her name was Erika) pulled off one of the worst displays of sportsmanship in the history of soccer. After a Brazilian clear late in the second overtime, Erika went down on a phantom punch in the Brazilian box. She immediately signaled for the medical unit to come out and attend to her and actually let them strap her up and take her off the field as if she had just suffered a heavy stroke while playing. After wasting nearly 43 minutes of time and getting taken off on the stretcher, she then proceeded to throw off the straps and immediately resume playing as if Jesus Christ himself had laid hands on her. By this time I was up screaming obscenities at my television, and it seemed as if the crowd was threatening to riot. Just a totally classless move.
And then, well, (please pause while I wipe away my sports tears).
We all watch sports for those one in a thousand moments that transcend actual sports and make you remember where you were when it happened. It doesn’t occur very often but one in a thousand times you witness something miraculous on a field that makes you remember why you spent all those hours wasting your time with sports in the first place. The last time this had happened for me was last year during the men’s World Cup when Landon Donovan scored that late goal that sent the men onto the knockout round. Before that it was when Matt Holliday and the Colorado Rockies delivered a mircaulous comeback against the Padres in the bottom half of an extra innings one game playoff in which they were trailing.
It happened yesterday. And it was one of the most satisfying victories I’ve ever witnessed as a sports fan.
The United States of course went on to win the game and if you missed out on it, I feel sorry for you. It’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon though. I highly recommend you catch their next game Wednesday against France as this US team is one of destiny and is almost assured of winning it all now that Germany and Brazil are gone.
You’d be a fool to miss out on any of it.
Generation Y, where serious question here: is Hope Solo hot or not?
This isn’t like the time Benny the Jet busted the cover off a baseball, but it’s close.