Coach Tom makes a sparkling return to our pages, closing the book on what was a magical run to the Womens' World Cup Final for the US team:
There was a great article yesterday in the New York Times about how quickly the women's game has improved and how much more like men's soccer it has become. Anyone watching the France and Japan teams can attest to that. Where were they in 1999?
And even US Coach Pia Sundhage sees that it's no longer enough for the US just to be the best athletes on the pitch, they need to play better soccer. And so on Sunday they went out and did just that.
But then it all fell apart. A bizarrely bad defensive clearance and a goal, an indecisive Hope Solo not getting to a ball which led to Christie Rampone clearing for a corner, which led to another goal?! And then a vomit-on-the-cleats shootout and there it all went. The golden girls defeated. Heros to zeros. What happened to destiny?
Destiny. It's a word we use far too often in sports. But on Sunday there seemed to be a lot of sporting destiny in the air. First Darren Clarke came from nowhere to find a week of glory and help erase a heap of personal hurt and professional disappointment. Maybe Team USA should have taken note. Because destiny is not a word reserved for the number one team in the world; it's reserved for teams that carry the grief of a nation on their back and fight their way through the tournament to claim the title.
It's destiny that saw Team USA play their best soccer of the entire tournament, and still lose. And while Brazil and France might say "karma, baby!" it should be noted that in those games the USA withstood possession disparities, not clear goal scoring opportunities. In a game that the US should have won 5-1, a game in which they held good shape, showed a variety of attacking skills and effort, the US created chance after chance - good ones - and failed to score. It seems unfathomable. I can't (won't?) watch the highlights just to see the ball hit the crossbar again or go just wide or.... How could this happen? Destiny seems to be the only answer.
The sad part is how quickly the women's game will be forgotten into four more years of oblivion (with the exception of maybe a brief uptick at the Olympics). Good luck seeing any women's soccer coverage on ESPN after Monday night. Think it'll be different this time? Ok. Quick quiz: Where was the Women's World Cup held in 2003 - only 4 years after the amazing USA win? Germany?
Nope, back home in the USA (there was a SARS scare in China at the time). Where's the next World Cup? Korea? Nope, Canada. Will we see you there? Doubtful. But hopefully, as the skill improves at this lightning pace, and as the world sees more good teams enter the tournament with a chance to win -- Take a bow, Japan -- this sport will continue to rise and maybe even creep into our consciousness. Ya know, kind of like the NHL, eh? Destiny, we need your help!