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: Jul 28, 2009
Posted on: July 17, 2011 8:46 pm

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

 The U.S. team played masculine, almost uber masculine. Goonish soccer. They seemed to believe they could just overpower opponents. They lacked the finesse, skill and nimbleness displayed by other teams

Utter rubbish.  you didnt watch the game.  its not one or the other like in your simple, false dichotomy type of mind.  it's not big OR skillful.  one can can be big and skillful.  the americans were regularly strining together precise short range passes, someimes 10 in a row to maintain possession.  they out possessed the japanese 65% to 35.  the team with more possession is the more skillful team almost always.   not only did the U.S. team not lack finesse or skill, they actually showed more skill and finnesse than just about every other team.  france and sweden have nice skill too.   we did not win b/c we didnt finish chances and because we took the foot off the gas with 10 minutes to go.  give credit to japan.  they never gave up.  Japan won.  The U.S. were not losers.  making comments like goonish soccer makes me angry b/c it is a blatant disregard for the truth and suggests to me that you did not even watch the game.  megan rapinoe and shannon boxx were in particular terrificly precise and skillful and their dribbling and passes.  I am proud of the U.S. team.  screw the haters, and give credit to japan.

Since: Sep 25, 2006
Posted on: July 17, 2011 8:43 pm

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

I feel bad for the players and wanted them to win, but part of me feels relieved. I know the media, starting with ESPN, would've blown the roof off this thing, they would've hyped it as some "transcendent" moment in sports history and a great victory for femenism against the patriarchy to be celebrated for all time. Heck ESPN already made the game-tying goal last week the #5 sports moment of all time. It's unfortunate for the players since generally they don't ask for that treatment, they just want to win a represent their country.

Since: Nov 29, 2006
Posted on: July 17, 2011 8:34 pm

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

The size and physical advantage the U.S. enjoys over every other team in the World Cup is ridiculous. Wambach looked like a gargantuan goon, towering over diminutive Lilliputians in front of the net. The U.S. wasn't just favorites in this World Cup, they were heavy favorites (no pun intended). They were supposed to win. In the end, it was the American's team obsession with overpowering and dominating their opponent which contributed most to their demise. The U.S. team played masculine, almost uber masculine. Goonish soccer. They seemed to believe they could just overpower opponents. They lacked the finesse, skill and nimbleness displayed by other teams. Toward the end of games, the U.S. players looked heavy legged, seemed to lumber down the pitch, and were slow defending. Anyone watching this World Cup had to wonder if the U.S. could score by kicking the ball into the net. It seemed their entire offense was to lob balls in the air to Wambaugh's head. It was like watching Shaquille O'Neal in the paint against smurfs. Japan was the smallest team in the World Cup. What does that tell you? It tells you that winning soccer is about more than biceps and women flashing machismo. It's not mud wrestling. The U.S. needs to rethink their style of play, and develop players with actual soccer skills. Leave the masculinity to the men. If they don't change their style, they will find themselves even further behind in four years. The best team won. Not the biggest.

Since: Apr 6, 2007
Posted on: July 17, 2011 8:24 pm

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

What a shame the game was decided by a coin flip, I mean, penalty kicks.

Since: Feb 9, 2010
Posted on: July 17, 2011 8:02 pm

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

Good thing nobody in America cares about soccer or else this game would have meant something

Since: Nov 11, 2006
Posted on: July 17, 2011 7:56 pm

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

I was there and the atmosphere was amazing.  It makes me sick to my stomach though that the US lost this game.  They did everything to win it except put the ball in the back of the net.  Ball possession doesn't tell the story of how lopsided this game was.  What a shame to lose such a thriller.

Since: Nov 15, 2008
Posted on: July 17, 2011 7:53 pm

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

This was a great game to watch.  At the end of regular play Japan looked exahusted and the USA team didn't look fatigued.  Japan did more than outlast Team USA they just flat out played harder in the end and won today.

Since: Sep 29, 2008
Posted on: July 17, 2011 7:53 pm

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

Congrats on a great effort. Tough loss but great tournament and great for the game. Young people need role models that aren't trash. Way to represent our country.

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