Monday, July 18, 2011

Did U.S. victory over Brazil leave its taint on champion match against Japan?

There’s no doubt about it.
MORGAN: Coulda been the hero

The United States’ women’s national soccer team played a match historic in character last week when it managed to beat Brazil.

COMING FROM BEHIND and tying up a match in stoppage time (that excess minute or two that gets added onto soccer games to account for any delays during the game), then managing to win that quarter-final match with penalty kicks.

A lot of drama. Certainly a moment that won’t soon be forgotten – even by those crackpots who want to complain about the fact that soccer is becoming a part of the sports scene in this country, no matter how much they want to claim it isn’t.

But in watching the U.S. team taking on Japan in the finals on Sunday, I couldn’t help but feel a letdown; and not just because it would be impossible to script on-field activity that could top the match against Brazil.

It just struck me that I was watching a batch of footballers who were convinced that this match was destined to go into overtime, through the two 15-minute periods of such play, then be decided by penalty kicks.

AT LEAST THAT’S how I explain the fact that the U.S. team managed to blow several chances to score in the first half of the match, then twice gave up the lead (once in the second half, and another in overtime).

They figured that destiny would take them to penalty kicks, and that would be where they would prevail.

Which is to say that I was rather disgusted on Sunday when the World Cup champion match went through overtime with a 2-2 tie, and ultimately got decided by those penalty kicks.

Which happens to be the point where Japan’s national women’s team prevailed. Their goaltender, Ayumi Kaihori, was diving all over the place to block shots – showing an athleticism one usually doesn’t see from goaltenders in the women’s version of soccer.

THE END RESULT is that the United States team lost a match to Japan that it should have won. EXCEPT that it made the mistake of assuming that the match’s “big” moment would come later.

Instead, it didn’t.

Which is probably a nice life’s lesson. Take opportunities when they come. They may not return when you think you’ll be ready.

The final “stats” for Sunday’s match show a U.S. team that had twice as many shots made and corner kicks than did Japan, although Japan had possession of the ball for 53 percent of the match.

YET GOING INTO the penalty kicks, it was merely a 2-2 tie.

It was particularly nauseating considering that the crowd on hand in Frankfurt (where the finals were played) had a large U.S. contingent. Each U.S. goal caused the stadium’s nearly 50,000 crowd to be filled with the “U-S-A” chant that crops up all too often at sports events.

That moment when U.S. fans were convinced that victory was at hand and that it was time to relax.

Instead, Japan’s teams managed to respond with game-tying goals each time – which suddenly shut everybody up.

WHAT I’M CURIOUS to see is how this affects Alex Morgan. The 22-year-old who is the youngest member of the women’s national team was the one who scored what should have been the game-winning goal in the 69th minute of the actual soccer match.

Then in overtime, she set up the ball that Abby Wambach used her head to knock into the goal for what was briefly a 2-1 lead. Albeit, a lead that should have held.

Considering that she was a reserve player for the national team who only got into the match in the second half because of another player’s injury, Morgan could have been that “scrub” who rises to the occasion and given a U.S. sporting victory.

It’s too bad that Morgan couldn’t somehow have managed to be one of the U.S. players who made a penalty kick. Perhaps she had enough of the golden touch that she would have scored – instead of missing like most of the U.S. women did. Perhaps she'll be an integral part of some future national team that will actually win a World Cup tourney.

IF IT SEEMS like I’m taking this loss hard, keep in mind that what’s really bothering me is that I spent an afternoon (albeit out of the summer heat) parked in front of my brother’s television set watching this sometimes lackadaisical play, instead of doing something more worthwhile (although those of you who watched the Chicago Cubs' 7-5 loss to the Florida Marlins are more pathetic than I). I expect that by the time I wake up Monday, this will be long accepted.
LePEILBET: Local star

Particularly since we’re not going to have to endure the hype about a U.S. championship team. Nobody’s going to be getting any endorsement deals from having played Sunday.

And we’re definitely not going to be getting endless accounts of the life of Amy Lepeilbet – who is our local angle.

The defender for the U.S. women’s national team is a native of suburban Crystal Lake.


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