Happy birthday, America! For tomorrow you are DOOMED!
....would have been a funny way to lead off a blog post, but I think the US is going to win. Women's football is coming home, although it's going to have to wait in line at customs at SeaTac.
I take no pleasure in this opinion. The positive outcomes of a US victory would be a triumph in front of an audience of millions (this game is going to obliterate ratings records), a scrapbook moment in the history of the sport, and a much-needed boost for the NWSL. On the other hand, if the US does win, Abby Wambach becomes even more annoying. So of COURSE I'm cheering for Japan.
Unfortunately, I don't believe I'll get to burn an American flag in celebration like I did four years ago. We're going to win, and we'll be stuck with Jill Ellis forever. And, afterwards, Wambach will be coach for a couple of cycles. It's enough to make me want to watch men's soccer, I tell you.
It's hard to believe now, but in 2011 Japan came out of bleedin' nowhere. They were amazing to watch, and you'd have thought by the time they beat Germany IN Germany, people would have treated them as a serious contender. I thought they were just plain better than the US, and was mildly surprised they needed penalty kicks to win the tournament. Probably just nerves.
Well, they're not surprising anyone this time.
By the way, they also didn't surprise anyone in 2012, when the US won the gold medal over them. Are we absolutely sure we want to go with "The World Cup is much more important than the Olympics" as an official policy statement? I thought we found greatness in the Olympics, what happened? I wish you had told me earlier, when I was grudgingly giving respect to Mexico's men's team for winning a medal we've never come particularly close to. But, um, unless we win this tournament, "It's only the Olympics" is not only going to sound awkward next summer, when we're trying to get people excited about all this again. It's also a claim that we've won absolutely nothing of meaning for sixteen years.
Oh, well - I'm not the USWNT hype man, to say the least.
Japan also isn't QUITE as good as they were then, although of course they say otherwise. Maybe it's just that the rest of the world has finally caught up with them. But the results tell the story - they have been squeaking like Stuart Little to get their results this time. Japan is also recovering from huge mistakes - and you can take that one of two ways. They might be resilient champions who remain focus in adversity. Or, those wandering minds are going to be absolutely punished by a team who they can't simply fire back against at will.
Remember when I said the US only got as far as they did because their bracket was rigged? Japan got Canada's bracket. Now THAT was a garden path to the final. England was easily the best team they met, and that game had penalty shootout-coin toss written all over it. The US might have had a brilliant strategy with their "Let the referee give a yellow instead of a DOGSO red and have Sasic go wide left" plan - I sure didn't see it coming. But that's nothing compared to the simple brilliance of "Win in injury time on the flukiest own goal in human memory." The oldest trick in the book, and England fell for it.
Poor Laura Bassett - she's not embracing her new-found fame well, apparently. Is it worth addressing the idiotic Telegraph column/hot take that the English public should have stoned her at the airport? Bassett is not a multi-millionaire, the England fanbase had been women's soccer fans for roughly twenty minutes, and she couldn't replicate that shot again in twelve thousand years. Every rational observer knows this. Although "women's football isn't THAT popular, get over it" probably wouldn't cheer her up.
I think we got the two best teams in the Final, although this might be remembered as the Penalty Outside the Box tournament. Let's address that for a second, as well. Now, I'm as blind as Daredevil, so it doesn't cut much ice for me to say that in real time, both penalties in both games looked barely inside the area to me. It's not my job to make the right call. But I still don't believe either of those calls were easy, by any means. I also don't believe either Alex Morgan or Saori Ariyoshi dove. Both were obviously fouls.
The moral? Don't try to be cute and commit a foul right on the edge of the penalty area, because you're putting the game in the ref's hands. Or, and here's a crazy thought, don't get beat that badly to begin with.
And come to think of it, Silvia Neid's complaints about the non-red card on Julie Johnston ring fairly hollow, too. Whether or not you believe it was the right call - and hey, it probably wasn't - all Germany was deprived of was a player advantage. Now, that was a monstrously big change, but think about it. "Because of the referee, we had to play 11 v. 11, just like every other game." Yeah, it's a big change, but the consequence of the call was the status quo. "Oh, no, we have to play on level terms" is not the whine of a champion.
By the way, if Steph Houghton's foul/mind-blowingly cynical dive is going the be the standard for penalty kicks, then tomorrow's score is going to be 34-30. Dr. Joe had a bad week. There, I said it. And don't give me this "rules" crap.
I'm actually cautiously optimistic that we will have a great game. We have great teams on paper. Both are overdue to put 90 minutes of quality soccer together, but better late than never. I still think Japan matches up wonderfully against the US. But the US will have such a huge home field advantage in Vancouver. And, more tangibly, the US has an equally huge goalkeeping advantage.
Sasic's miss against Solo? Wow, we're sure lucky she missed the frame, right? Except Sasic wasn't just some random fan shooting to win airline tickets. She was trying to make a perfect, perfect shot - because she was worried if she didn't, Solo would have saved it.
Which she wouldn't have, because Solo guessed wrong, but that doesn't mean she didn't force Sasic to miss. That, and no series of mind games, kept Germany from taking the lead.
I doubt that scenario happens exactly against Japan - Aya Miyama has been a surgeon from the spot this tournament. But I think we can assume Solo isn't going to have a shot bounce off her hands into the goal like Aiyumi Kaihori did against Holland. Miyama will have difficulty beating Solo; but Carli Lloyd is going to take Kaihori's head off.
I'm going with 2-0, the Most Dangerous Lead and the Official Score of US Soccer. Lloyd and Wambach are your scorers. Wambach because I still think in my heart if she starts against Japan we will lose, so naturally she will start and dominate. But Lloyd will get the game-winner, because of the Great God Narrative.
Confetti. High-pitched screams. "No one believed in us" speeches. Another appalling Nike T-shirt. Jill Ellis in the Hall of Fame. I don't like it any more than you do, but what can we do? There's always 2019.