Thursday, August 09, 2012

Team USA Wins GOLD In Women's Soccer: Can Anyone Say Dynasty?

AMERICAN DOMINANCE IN THE WOMEN'S GAME IS COMPLETE: FOUR GOLD MEDALS, THREE IN A ROW. When the women take the pitch, America is SOCCER COUNTRY, and that's no small feat in a sports-obsessed nation that is still reluctant to embrace the game.

 Not so at Wembley Stadium, one of the cathedrals of international football. Abby Wambagh knows her soccer history well; one British commenter noted she was trying very hard to make her mark at Wembley with a goal. Consider the stadium was packed to the rafters, with 83,000 paying fans and nearly 90,000 total, present.

Pretty impressive. And a worthy stage for the show put on by Team USA. Not that Japan played poorly. They hit their marks, they attacked and pressured the American defense, even scoring one goal on one of those mad scrambles in front of Hope Solo. Who, by the way, isn't only the Muse among others, but my pick for game MVP. I know, it probably went to Carli Lloyd for her two goals — that's the way these things work — but Hope made three critical and outstanding saves which secured gold for Team USA. Here's one of them:

The other was an acrobatic (they were all acrobatic and reflexive) fingertip deflection that bounced off the top wood, a ball that was going in. But the most outstanding, game-saving Solo save came as the U.S. clung to its tenuous 2-1 lead and Japan pressured with numbers. Soccer games have more dramatic highs and lows than other high-scoring sports, which is precisely the allure of this game. Suffice it to say that a 2-1 lead is a very nerve-wracking proposition. You could see it on the faces of the fans in the stands.

So that was the backdrop. Suddenly a tired American defender on the right side of her field had a momentary lapse in concentration allowing a Japanese striker to steal the ball. With the defense exposed and no defenders in the neighborhood, the Japanese striker invaded Hope's box, at an angle, perfectly profiled to make the kill. She had the luxury of picking her corner. She picked the far corner, to Hope's left and drilled a low shot with plenty of pace. Hope reacted.

One commenter said Solo guessed right but I don't think so. She's an outstanding instinctive keeper who reacts to a ball's trajectory as well as any goalkeeper I've seen. Like they say in baseball, it was a "bang-bang play." As the ball headed for the low far corner post, for the viewers following its inexorable flight to the net, the play slows down. Suddenly, there's this flash of green and we see Hope in flight, intercepting the ball like a Patriot Missile, deflecting it safely out of harm's way.

Bang-bang, and a gold medal save. One of the women on this American squad noted with a mixture of pride and humor that after their epic win over Canada, a young boy said, "when I grow up I want to be a soccer player on the women's team." It sounds almost apocryphal, yet so true. This team sparked a familiar something in young kids' imaginations. We all know what it is. We've all had that feeling (boys, at least) relating, for the first time, to playing a game, picking our sport.

Like it or not, sports traditionalists, soccer is part of American culture. Next up: reviving the women's professional league.

No comments: