Japan was a worthy winner--and not because of an earthquake, tsunami or radiation disasters. They wanted it more at the end. They ran harder. They were more opportunistic. They finished better. Japan might be the sentimental winner here, but they won because they survived the onslaught that was the first 20 minutes of the game by the U.S. and yes cliche kids, it came back to haunt the women of Hope Solo.
I'll admit I don't know the tendencies of the U.S. players well enough to know whether Pia Sundhage made the right choices for penalty kicks, but plenty of folks are casting a critical eye at the Swede this morning. And I know Megan Rapinoe started because of Amy Rodriguez's general ineffectiveness throughout the tournament. Rapinoe has such a great motor and did make the now legendary pass to Abby Wambach in the quarterfinals. But let's be honest, Rapinoe was not a starter in the tournament until yesterday and it's clear why. The longer that game went, the less effective, more reckless she got. Not sure if it's a fitness or concentration issue, but her foibles in the U.S. area in extra time almost cost the U.S. a goal. And how many times did the cameras catch a teammate (Wambach) give her a WTF look? Trust me, I love Rapinoe's game, but some players are starters and others should come off the bench with 25 to go and that's how they best excel. I'll put that one on Pia as well.
Now for some positives: There's no way you can't like the U.S. team. Solo might be a little off-putting personality wise, but you have to love her cocky confidence. She's an ace on penalties and aside from the first Japan PK, she guessed right on all of them. Her defense, much like the U.S. men's defense ironically, let her down. They were savagely bad on the game-tying goal late in extra time; let's say it again -- Japan was super opportunistic. There was a segment late in that game when I looked at my son and asked him whether Japan had taken a shot on goal aside from its first goal. I think the answer was no.
And as for Wambach, talk about balls. That woman is a leader, something the men's team could desperately use. In fact, this team's on-field solidarity is something the men should strive for. As impressive as Wambach is in the air and positioning, I loved her post-game more. Not sure if you caught the post-game as Japan was celebrating, Wambach took charge and went player to player, coach to coach with encouraging words and hugs. Sure it's risky to conjecture what she was telling her mates post-game on the field, but a pretty safe guess is that it was a little more than "Keep your heads up." I think there was a lot of encouragement for younger players and a lot of "Remember This Moment" type of dialogue. "Stay classy and remember how much this hurts, and never let this happen again."
Wambach was hurting late in the game and she was gassed. She had no legs late in extra time and I hope she has enough to play in four years. Who knows? The U.S. team would be better for it; hopefully her body cooperates.
Hopefully yesterday's loss isn't this team's legacy. The Olympics will be here in a flash and a handful of friendlies, tournaments and the 2015 World Cup. Every team has its moment, and losing yesterday for the time being is going to be this team's legacy. Hopefully they will have a day to redeem themselves because they're good for U.S. Soccer.