This was a very divisive and controversial Olympic tournament, but I think we can all agree that it was a truly wonderful moment in the medal ceremony, when rival fans from all over the world came together to boo Sepp Blatter. I wasn't so much a blogger watching the US in the Olympics, as a fifth columnist. Now that this cycle is over, I can admit it - I fell in love with this Japan team last year. While you were all wondering if you could get Alex Morgan jerseys in men's sizes, I was curious about getting an Aya Miyama jersey in something larger than extra-extra-small.
(Although the Olympic jerseys differ significantly from the usual national team jerseys anyway. And I don't think the USSF is in a big hurry to sell commemorative shirts with no hint of either nation or federation.)
(And I'm always amused when a Far Eastern nation wears jerseys with Latin letters on the back and the English-language exonym in the front. In case anyone forgot exactly who won the war.)
Japan will be remembered as just another very good team, instead of a dominant one, which is fine. Hey, maybe they should have kept trying to score goals. They were pretty good against the United States, but they needed to be great, and weren't. The better team won.
But, as the song says, fat-bottomed girls, you make my rockin' world go round - get on your bikes and ride. (...wrong Queen song?)
Hey, I have an idea for a commercial. We open with a shot of a fat blogger, and he's squinting at the screen going "Hope Solo is overrated, Hope Solo is an attention whore, Hope Solo makes everything about her," and we zoom in on the bottle I'm - I mean, he's drinking out of, and it's labeled "Haterade." And then Solo barges in, kills the blogger, spills the Haterade on the keyboard to produce a satisfying shower of sparks, drinks a refreshing swig of her sponsor drink, holds the bottle up to the camera, and says with a smile, "Brandi Chastain is the worst ****ing announcer in the whole ****ing world."
Yes, I agreed with Fake Sigi. I thought this team had feet of clay. I thought this was, by USWNT standards, a very difficult team to like. As the Fakester noted, this wasn't even a particularly solid team. The defense was and remains deeply flawed. One of the most significant near-misses for Japan featured Abby Wambach backing into Solo. Christie Rampone nearly jeopardized the gold medal, if not her red jacket, with that giveaway to Tanaka in the final ten minutes. Solo jumped all over Chastain for the only thing Brandi was right about.
I mean, Chastain even tried to trot out the "2-0 is the most dangerous lead" canard after the Japan goal. No, Brandi, that 2-0 lead made sure it was a 2-1 win, instead of extra time, penalties, and God knows what else. That's how math works. Brandi Chastain is one of America's soccer treasures, and I'd listen extremely attentively to her thoughts after she has had a chance to gather them. But her virtues and the qualities that make a good color commentator make up a Venn diagram of two separate circles. Okay, she's better than Harkes.
And as it turned out, Alex Morgan put on exactly the right amount of blue body paint on her pubis in order to win the gold medal. That was one sweet assist, and am I going to sit here defensively and say most of her actual shots were much more sour? Of course not. Now's not the time to say that future Hall of Famers shouldn't send most of their shots in a final into the Van Allen belt.
Solo got personal redemption in her ill-considered slapfight with Chastain - or, rather, her considered attempt to deflect media criticism away from her defenders. (Which, if it was meant to help them concentrate and raise their game, didn't work. Sinclair shredded them in the semifinal, and they easily could have forced Solo to face two penalty kicks before an hour was done.) Now this generation of players, who lack a nickname as well as an easy era definition, can hold their heads nearly alongside the 90's/turn of the millennium team.
I say nearly, because this team still doesn't have a player quite on the level of Michelle Akers. I happen to think no team ever will again, though, so in this case comparisons are particularly unfair.
The other edge the 90's team has will probably be longevity. If you define this version of the USWNT as the Wambach/Boxx era, then this generation might claim credit for three consecutive gold medals (although Wambach selfishly skipped the 2008 Olympics because of a broken leg - Akers woulda played on it). But the 2004 gold medal game featured Hamm, Foudy, Chastain, Fawcett, Scurry, Lilly, Markgraf, Rampone - all associated with the 90's team. The first six of those players started for the US gold medal team eight freaking years previously in the other Athens. It may not make sense according to the calendar, but I consider 2004 part of the Golden Generation.
So comparing this group to the "1999" team" is a complete non-sequitur - this team won't accomplish what the Akers-Hamm era did, because they won't stay together as long. Remember how excited Arlo White was about Japan being the first team to win the Olympics after the World Cup? The US is the only team to win the World Cup after the Olympics. That was the Golden Generation.
Because of the women's soccer calendar - i.e., see you in three years! - 2012 will probably be remembered as the tail end of the Wambach/Boxx/Solo/Rampone/Lloyd era, and the beginning of the Morgan era. (And hopefully the Rapinoe era.) (Plus whoever takes the place of Wambach, Boxx, Solo, Rampone and Lloyd. They may not all be gone by 2015, but it's pretty unrealistic to expect them all to be here for Canada - and if they are, it will be pretty unrealistic to expect much beyond the quarterfinals.)
They will not be remembered nearly as fondly as the team they're allegedly so jealous of. Not necessarily because they weren't as good - Wambach at the very least would have started up top for the Golden Generation with little argument. But they didn't win as much - without Carli Lloyd going big in big games, we might now be talking about the USWNT going a freaking decade-plus with no trophies whatsofreakingever. Fortunately, greatness has been found.
It would have been found on care packages to the South Sudan if Heath and Buehler had been more harshly judged, of course, but it was clearly too late to print shirts with "Whew!" on them.
And that's the other reason this team will be honored, but not adored. The 90's team was cheerfully and ruthlessly commercialized, but the gloating factor was nowhere to be seen. (One suspects this is because of Mia Hamm, since Foudy and Chastain were and are at least as controversial as Wambach and Solo.) This is also a team who seemingly spends more time choreographing goal celebrations than practicing defense on set pieces, although fortunately Lloyd didn't spoil the occasion with anything foolish.
The best way to remember this team is its amazing rivalry games with Brazil and Japan. The real hate between Brazil and the US, and the emotional abyss that opened up after Greg Ryan replaced Solo with Scurry - well, those aren't pleasant memories, but it showed what the US was able to come back from. (Even if their woes were largely self-inflicted.) The Olympics and World Cup wins over Brazil after the 2007 faceplant were among the most satisfying in the history of the program.
And I could watch the US-Japan games over and over. Unlike the 1999 final that was ruined by the Southern California heat in July, the two finals against Japan were both entertaining, dramatic classics. Both teams were shown at their very best. Japan too will not be the same by the time 2015 rolls around, either. I'm looking forward to the next few years of Marta v. Morgan, too, but let's appreciate what we just had, because it was fantastic.