Blog Entry

Unthinkable: U.S. women out-closed, out-finished

Posted on: July 17, 2011 6:47 pm

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

There were a lot of scripts for today's Women's World Cup final that ended in defeat for the U.S.A. against Japan. The one it followed had to have been the most far-fetched of all.

Because if there was one thing the U.S. knew they could rely on, one strength they could always fall back to, it was their ability to finish. No team was fitter. No team was more resilient. No team dealt better with pressure. Down a goal and a player in the 122nd minute to Brazil? No problem. Tied 1-1 with France with 15 minutes to play after an hour of French domination? We'll win by two. 

So when the U.S. went up 1-0 thanks a brilliant Alex Morgan strike and took that lead into the 80th minute, you could have forgiven the watching nation for believing the Cup was within reach. But the crushing defensive lapses that had hamstrung the U.S. in group play reared its head again, two failed clearances from Rachel Buehler and Alex Krieger leaving Aya Miyama to stab home from close range. Cup: back out of reach.

OK, so it's extra time, but they're the U.S. No problem, right? It looked that way when the terrific Morgan turned her defender and lofted a pinpoint cross that Abby Wambach headed home with maximum authority. 2-1 up and with the clock ticking under five minutes to play, the Cup was within the U.S.'s reach. Again.

But with the American defense suddenly -- and surprisingly -- looking dead-legged, Japan mounted a last-minute surge and forced a corner. That corner fell to Homare Sawa, Japan's best player and the tournament's high scorer. 2-2. Cup gone. Again.

But they'd done it at the absolute death of overtime once already, right? And sure enough, with just seconds remaining, Heather O'Reilly somehow broke free on the right flank to cross to an unmarked Wambach just six yards from goal. Wambach, the U.S.'s certain closer, the U.S.'s cold-blooded assassin, their finisher of finishers. But the ball fall fell to her feet, rather than her head; the one-time shot skewed wildly over the bar.

But with Hope Solo in goal and the kind of precision on display in their 5-for-5 ouster of Brazil, surely a penalty kick shootout would belong to the U.S. Right? Please? 

No. The U.S.'s first three penalty takers (Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd, and Tobin Heath) went a stunning 0-for-3. It was over. 

It was unthinkable. A loss? Not a shock. But like this? As not just the second-best team, but the second-most resilient team, the second-most clutch team?

It's the sort of defeat that -- like the U.S. men's loss to Ghana in the wake of Landon Donovan's heart-stopping goal against Algeria last year -- cannot help but take some of the shine off of the Brazil comeback that first seized the country's sporting attention the Sunday before. As amazing a moment as that remains, quarterfinals aren't finals. Goals scored in the 122nd minute don't count more than ones given up in the 117th. Losses from ahead are every bit as devastating as wins from behind. That's sports.

That's not to say the U.S.'s one shootout loss should overshadow what came before it. The USWNT took advantage of this tournament to re-establish themselves as one of the world's elite sides. They reminded the nation of the drama and power of the sport they play, just a year before they look to defend their Olympic title. They lost to a deserving champion, one who punished opponents' mistakes mercilessly throughout the tournament and did so again today. The U.S. should remain immensely proud of their accomplishments, and the nation should remain immensely appreciative of the giddy ride we've been taken on.

But assessing the Americans' entire tournament means also assessing the Final's last 10 minutes of regulation, that final 5 minutes of extra time, that dreadful shootout. And as brilliant as the U.S. was in Germany, there's no way that assessment can't conclude that the U.S. chose the worst possible time to close in the worst possible fashion.

It's not the script we expected. And after 12 long years, the U.S. must now wait four long more for their World Cup rewrite.


Since: Aug 21, 2006
Posted on: July 18, 2011 8:32 am

Unthinkable: U.S. women out-closed, out-finished

I wouldn't say Solo is the greatest keeper out there, but I'm curious what makes you think she's responsible for the loss. Both Japanese goals were because of defensive collapse. No goalkeeper would have been able to stop those as they were at close range with essentially no defender still in the play. She did seem a bit rattled, but who wouldn't be? Clearing the ball is basic defense, and the team seemed incapable of doing that.

Since: Dec 13, 2007
Posted on: July 18, 2011 6:46 am

Unthinkable: U.S. women out-closed, out-finished

Japan defeated the 3 time World Cup winner Germany, Japan defeated Sweden who were very strong in getting to the final, they breezed through their first two games and upon having already advanced, lost to England. Yeah, I predicted Japan to take it though I did not cheer for them to win. Shootouts still are a way of ending games that are draws and our USA team still played very well. Japan's win though should be inspirational to everyone, no way did I think they would come back from being a goal down two times in the game.

Since: Jul 17, 2011
Posted on: July 18, 2011 3:21 am

Unthinkable: U.S. women out-closed, out-finished

Wambach first to congratulate the Japanese side and then held it together through some really tough post-game questions. = class.

Since: Mar 26, 2007
Posted on: July 18, 2011 2:52 am

Unthinkable: U.S. women out-closed, out-finished

Why are there so many negative comments on here?  Did the team lose?  Yes!  Did they entertain a nation for a few weeks?  Absolutely.  I am stationed in Iraq and I know that the World Cup was the most popular conversation over the last few weeks.  The girls tried hard and came up just short.  All this crap about lesbians, dykes, or whatever needs to stop.  Show some maturity, intellect, and class. 

Since: Jul 16, 2008
Posted on: July 18, 2011 1:45 am

Unthinkable: U.S. women out-closed, out-finished

Finish, don't finish, close, don't close: that is all a bunch of BS. I guess if you win, then you finished, and if you lost, then you failed to finish.

The Americans dominated action and scored 2 impressive goals, mostly thanks to Alex Morgan. The Japanese scored two very lucky goals, both goals deflected off two Americans before finding the net. Such is soccer. Give Japan credit for never quitting and for kicking tail in the PKs. It is a great story that they won.

It is unbelievable that the almighty World Cup is decided by penalty kicks. Go back to the Golden Goal. Let PKs decide group play games.

Why wasn't Alex Morgan playing all game? I realize she was a sub all tournament, but why? She is clearly the best striker on the team. Then, the coach takes out Rapinoe, who set up both of the USA goals, I guess for defense, but what a mistake that was. Not only did the replacement, Tobin Heath, make a weak attempt on the PK, but she failed to put home a chance on the free kick that would have won it before that. 

Since: Jun 23, 2011
Posted on: July 18, 2011 1:30 am

Unthinkable: U.S. women out-closed, out-finished

by the way where does ESPN  take their polls from. a dyke bar or a womens college campus?

Since: Jun 23, 2011
Posted on: July 18, 2011 1:07 am

Unthinkable: U.S. women out-closed, out-finished

thank god this is over. iwouid rather watch the grass grow outside my window then to watch that. espn i hope you go out of buisness from pushing that crap on us . start putting real sports events on please

Since: Nov 13, 2006
Posted on: July 18, 2011 1:06 am

Unthinkable: U.S. women out-closed, out-finished

I'm happy that Japan won.  As a matter of fact, as unpatriotic as it may sound, I was rooting for Japan.  After all the country has been through, a win like this has the ability to uplift spirits; and thats always nice to see.  Furthermore, I really didn't like the attitude this 2011 U.S. team had; I actually got sick of it.  Pia Sundhage is a poor coach in my opinion, giving her players too many "off days" proved costly.  Her over-relaxed attitude gave off a cockiness that should have been kept in check from the start.  It's clear that the U.S. Women entered the tournament with a superior skill set when compared to most countries, and rightfully so.  The sport is much more advanced here than in most other countries. We are supposed to be better, but that does not excuse you from hard work.  You can be better without letting everyone know through actions and words off the field.  Have some class.  Hope Solo posting a picture of the pitch on twitter while stating: "looks like a great place to win a championship", comes off to me as nothing more than arrogance.  Way to go in that shootout Solo!  The team also stating that they were tired of the comparisons to the 99 team bothered me as well.  Those women of the 99 team pioneered their generation of women's soccer here in America, and most of the players on that pitch today were inspired by what they saw in 99.  It seems to me that they wont have to worry about comparisons to the 99 team ever again.  That team won, they didn't.  Nobody ever remembers who finished second...and nobody cares!

Since: Mar 12, 2009
Posted on: July 18, 2011 12:38 am

Unthinkable: U.S. women out-closed, out-finished

The Brandy Chastain(sp) moment lives in history and gave a Huge boost to women's soccer so this year would not have topped that even with a win.  This team beat the best and played the best time after time but just could not do it today.

Since: Jul 18, 2011
Posted on: July 18, 2011 12:25 am

Unthinkable: U.S. women out-closed, out-finished

Emphasis needs to be placed on the incredible accomplishments of the U.S. TEAM.  I coach at the high school level in Canada, and I will have my players study the U.S. team's unselfish play, fantastic finishing, and incredible work ethic that was ahead of EVERY team in the world.  At the very last, they came apart.  That it happened was incredible, tragic for US fans, miraculous for Japanese supporters.  To offer a MILD criticism, I believe the coach should have chosen her most confident players to begin the penalties--Wombach and Morgan, let the next shooters ride the wave of success, and left Lloyd out of the kicks all together because today she struggled on chances throughout the match.

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