When Team USA Reintroduced Us To Soccer, But Lost The Women’s World Cup Final

They had the country buzzing for over a week, following their improbable come from behind victory over the Brazilian National Team, winning in penalty kicks, 2-2(3-5). Down one player, Rachel Buehler, for the better part of an hour, the women’s USA National Team battled the odds and marched on to a semi final match against France, off the head of team leader Abby Wambach.

On Sunday, July 17, Team USA took the field to play the women’s Japan National Team. In the first 30 minutes of play, Team USA was rolling, having attempted but missed about give or six great scoring chances. Color commentator for ESPN, and a member of the 1999 World Cup champion USA team, Julie Foudy predicted the fate of the team after an onslaught of chances in the first 30 minutes of the game.

“At some point you have got to put away those chances,” she said early in the match. Later she would say, in a 0-0 game before young USA star Alex Morgan scored the first goal of the game, “You just hope after this game we’re not talking about missed opportunities.”

Psychic or not, this would be the case, after Team USA took the lead twice in the game, once in regulation and once in extra time, only to surrender it back until their final fate was decided by the unforgiving penalty kicks – missed in near succession by Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath. Only the ever-spirited Wambach converted on her penalty kick.

For the team, having already won a game in penalty kicks the Women’s World Cup, there was never any doubt from commentator Foudy that this shootout would be a tougher task than the one they played in against Brazil a week earlier.

“There’s no doubt they’ve (Japan) scouted (USA’s) kick takers,” Foudy said. The trouble with already having been in a penalty kick is the opposing goalkeeper, in this case Japan’s, would know the way you’ve already gone. Foudy understood this, as probably did the team.

Unfortunate for Carli Lloyd, her attempt at a penalty kick looked the worst on national television, in front of the second largest daytime television cable audience in the history of cable television. She later receive a lot of support on her Twitter, with fans saying a missed penalty kick doesn’t define how you played in the game. Actually, Lloyd had one of her best games in the tournament, receiving a respectable grade of 6.5 from ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle.

As seemed to be the case to Lloyd, and me watching the game, the extra time goal by Wambach, a header as usual, should have been the World Cup-clinching goal to send the US, not Japan, to the stage to hold the golden trophy. After all, there was so little time left in the second extra time period.

“I had no doubt (the game was over),” Lloyd said. “The way the tournament has been going — the Brazil game, even the France game — I just had no doubt in my mind that we were going to finish this off.” Lloyd would also talk about how she looked up at the clock and saw time was in her favor. “I remember looking up at the clock, five minutes left, and I’m like ‘Oh, we can do this.’ And they equalize again.”

I too, Carli, was looking up at the clock as I stood with my hands on me knees about two feet from the television, whispering under my breath, “Come on USA! Come on USA,” as I tend to do during every Notre Dame football game.

As for the equalizer, the goal astounds me how a header from Japan’s little giant, Homare Sawa, turned in such an odd direction (her head going away from the goal, but the ball continuing toward is as though her forehead had barely nicked it) and get passed the best goalkeeper in the world, Hope Solo. And to come at such an odd time, too, in the 117th minute of the match, coming immediately after a stoppage of play was called because Solo was on the ground in pain. She reported later she and a teammate had bumped knees and hers was bleeding “pretty badly.”

While the shell shock of that final equalizing goal sat with probably the team and certainly the nation of onlookers, Team USA couldn’t beat out Japan in penalties, despite a valiant effort by Solo, who nearly stopped the first two-of-three to keep USA alive and well, after USA’s first two were mishits.

Even after the loss, the nation was buzzing high on soccer once again. For the vivid images that wont soon escape us, the women’s USA team has sparked soccer into our lives once again. For a sheer few weeks, I woke up in the morning proud of what my country was doing in soccer, excited to watch the next USA match from minute one to the last penalty kick.

What Team USA did in Germany was more than place second in the World Cup. They woke up a nation, whose heart kept beating slower and slower for soccer. They got our hearts pounding as only a title game in football, basketball, baseball or hockey could. They added a fifth sport to the list, which will hopefully stick.

Even something as simple as a little ESPY award for “Best Play” can show how much this team impacted the nation. The ESPYs came three days after Wambach scored the dramatic header against Brazil in the 122nd minute, the latest Women’s World Cup goal ever. Even three days were enough to get the nation voting for a play that will be the number one highlight from a memorable few weeks.

Facts of the Moment

  • Before the ‘Cup Final, a match had gone into penalty kicks only two other times in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. Each time, the team who scored the last equalizer of the game (France, USA) won in PKs
  • In the two rounds prior to the ‘Cup Final, Team USA’s game-winning goal came off the head of Abby Wambach. The same situation presented itself in the Final, but didn’t play out the same way
  • The match was watched by over 13 million viewers every minute, making it the second most watched daytime cable TV airing in cable history

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