Monday, July 11, 2011

U.S. Women's World Cup Soccer Team: You've Won Me Over

Abby Wambach and Hope Solo
OK, you've won me over United States Women's National Team (#USWNT as we say in the Twitterverse). I got sucked into that game yesterday and I enjoyed it; why is this starting to sound like some kind of Alcoholics Anonymous initiation rite?

I admit I was late, forgive me, but I did catch up quickly after halftime. Heard about the own goal; and became enraged at the ref on the red card to Rachel Buehler. Hope Solo, you too, you got me. It was a damned shame that first Marta PK save was taken away from you. It was sheer confident, cocky brilliance on your part. Such moments don't deserve to be what-could-have-been footnotes.

Speaking of footnotes, that's what you're supposed to be Australian referee Jacqui Melksham. Instead, you were the epitome of everything that's wrong with officiating in top-level professional sports. You interjected your fat face into every crucial play; what was the deal with those on-field conferences during corner kicks and free throws--not enough TV time for ya? Not only did you screw up the penalty re-take, but on Marta's extra-time goal, you and your equally incompetent linesmen (lineswomen?) missed the offside two passes before Marta's chip over Solo. And oh-my-freaking-God Julie Foudy, let's clean up the slobber over Marta's goal. It just wasn't that good. She stuck her leg onto a pretty good pass and flicked high on a prayer toward the back post. Solo was a tad out of position, otherwise, yes another footnote.

Thankfully, however, this U.S. team doesn't quit. Tireless engine Megan Rapinoe made the pass of the tournament to Abby Wambach's forehead. Yes, with less than a minute to go before minute 120 ticks off the clock, chances are you're a little spent, but the Brazil keeper and fullback were abysmal covering Wambach and coming out for the Rapinoe cross. Regardless, Wambach finished it. She finished it because she was FINALLY where she should have been the whole match--standing inside the 6-yard box using her 6-foot frame to score goals. It was a brilliant and unexpected goal, and a precious sports moment. If you were watching, you were on your feet the nanosecond the ball went in. You had to yell, loudly. Your hands went up, your dog starts barking. It's a big-time moment.

And how about some kudos for good fundamentals and coaching. U.S. coach Pia Sundhage makes these girls take PKs during practices. This ain't no Allen Iverson practice. This is dedication. This is a bunch of pros who understand that these situations and happen and repetition and precision are the keys to penalties and the U.S. were just better. BTW, watch the Brianna Scurry ESPN interview on the 1999 World Cup win over China. Listen to her talk about the save she made to set up Brandi Chastain's sports-bra moment. She knew she'd stop it by the Chinese player's body language.

Methinks my new favorite crazy goalie Hope Solo (I'll never forget how SCREWED she got during the last World Cup) spotted some of that same body language issue in Brazil's Daiane, the same Daiane who'd scored the own goal in the second minute to put the U.S. up 1-0. Daiane did not want to be at the spot. She took a short run-up to the ball and hit it poorly. Solo guessed right and the rest was history when Ali Krieger hit a worm-burner for the game-winning penalty.

Now I'm not gonna go all squirrely and say this is the game that brings soccer to the forefront of the American sports landscape. Nope, not gonna happen. But it's a great moment, one of the best of the sports year so far. And if the U.S. wins the whole thing as it should now, there are more memories to come.

For now, I'll concede that I'm hooked. I'll be watching the semifinals against France on Wednesday and hopefully I'll be leaping off my couch again.

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