Devastating loss yesterday. The US women seemed to do everything right, save two distinct moments where they slipped up, and Japan made them pay both times. I personally won’t dwell on the result much longer than this morning and I generally think that will be the case for most people my age. What I can’t help but wonder about though is the impact, or perhaps lack of impact, that result will have on a very young generation of female soccer fans. I personally witnessed the dramatic aftershock of that ’99 team and was almost certain we were about to experience a redux, but can this team now resonate? Can that loss even come close to inspiring young fans?
I hate to be the one to say it, but the first thing we have to get out of the way is that our team choked yesterday. Totally choked. In the most dramatic way possible. There was no way Japan even deserved to be on the same field as us, given our superior height, athleticism, and history in the sport. We should have dominated from the start to the finish, and, for the most part, we did just that. The Japanese were unable to take control of the game from the midfield, as is usually their style, and instead had to control possession behind the midfield line with their defenders in order to achieve any of what they set out to accomplish. The Americans failed to convert multiple opportunities in the first half, any one of which would no doubt have proven to be the game-winner. That’s where the choking started, and it was nowhere close to being the point at which it ceased.
The biggest goats yesterday have to be keeper Hope Solo and the American defense, both of which chose the worst possible time to have their worst games of the tournament. Solo looked anything but confident out there, a feeling which was only reinforced after Japan repeatedly kept breaking through the back line for runs in the second half. This all culminated in that shocking equalizer late in the game, the result of a failure to clear the ball by the defenders. In a bizarre series of events, American Ali Krieger actually assisted Miyama’s equalizer. Totally unforgivable.
Off to overtime where it appeared that Abby Wambach had again bailed the US out for the third consecutive game when she converted a stunning header in the first of two extra periods. And then, in a total throwback to the ridiculous fake injury by Brazil’s Erika in the quarterfinals, Hope Solo decided in the second overtime period to fake as if she’d taken a gunshot to the hamstring. I knew right then and there that we were doomed. The soccer gods frown upon poor sportsmanship like that. In the classless move to waste time, Japan set up for the corner that would eventually tie the game and send it to PKs. Solo of course was caught flat-footed on the play on a shot that didn’t appear to be all that difficult to stop. Perhaps even more embarrassing was that the Japanese converted on a set piece in which our team likely averaged about four more inches of height to their team.
And finally, in the final act of the choke job, USA coach Pia Sundhage made the baffling decision to start off the penalty kicks in the exact same order as against Brazil to try to win it for the Americans. Perhaps she had failed to consider that Japan’s goalie was most certainly watching those PKs as the kickers almost always go to the same side, the result of hours of practice perfecting one single “sure thing” shot. This point was even further rammed down our throat when announcer Julie Foudy made the stunning revelation that one of the American PK shooters revealed to her that before the Brazil shootout, she hadn’t taken a penalty since college and was 0 for 3 in her attempts before that. Does that seem like a person you want going to the line to decide the freaking World Cup?! Furthermore, after she was clearly rattled in the Brazil match, did America’s first kicker Shannon Boxx look like she had any hint of the confidence necessary to take the USA’s first kick again? She of course was stuffed easily by the Japanese keeper after going to the exact same kick she went to twice against Brazil and with that awful momentum from the start, the Japanese of course went on to win it all.
Now, I’m obviously a little bitter and these are most likely just the gripes of a sore loser who really, really wanted to win that match yesterday. I admit that openly. However, seriously think about this one thought for the rest of the day. How crippling was that loss for women’s soccer yesterday? There is a fledgling women’s league in the United States right now that was no doubt banking on the Americans bringing home the gold. They were likely hoping it would lead to a surge at their box office as the American heroes could be paraded around on their club teams for the next couple years. I wouldn’t want to bring my daughter now, if I had one. How many young female athletes are now going to associate that failure with soccer and choose another sport like basketball or lacrosse? Am I completely over-analyzing this?
Whatever the impact, I guess I’ll finish it off by saying I feel the most awful for Abby Wambach. She’s been the face of US soccer for the better part of a decade now and despite winning a gold medal at the Olympics, she’ll likely never win a World Cup as a starter. She goes down as the Kurt Warner of women’s soccer rather than the Tom Brady. Huge bummer.
Generation Y, where it’s good to have Heisenberg back in our lives. Stunning season opener.