Monday, July 11, 2011

I Love You, Hope Solo

photo by JMRosenfeldvia PhotoRee

I've finally calmed down enough from Sunday's emotional win by the US Women's National Team to write  a few lines about the game.  This was a game that had it all: tragedy, farce, cliffhanger, and finally, redemption.  It was the kind of game that makes you love and hate the sport, and all at the same time.  In fact, I'll go so far as to say that this was the most exciting performance by a US soccer team since....well, since the same day twelve years ago, when the US Women beat China on penalties to win the 1999 Womens' World Cup.  July 10 has quickly attained legendary status for US Soccer, and the Women's team has left their male counterparts far back in the rear view mirror in terms of providing this country with legitimate soccer thrills.

Sure, the USMNT will always have Landon Donovan's last gasp goal against Algeria this past year to fall back on, but Abby Wambach's thrilling header in the 122nd minute was all that and more.  Down to ten women, forced by a referee -- who can only be described as incompetent, corrupt, or both -- to play the final hour of the match (including stoppage and overtime) one player short, the US toughed it out and never gave up.  Displaying our very finest national trait, the Americans virtually willed themselves to victory, a victory all the sweeter for how it happened.

I won't waste your time reviewing the multiple mistakes by a referee who unjustly put the game -- and team -- in this position, but I will take some time to comment on the Brazilian's comeuppance.  Denied once by the brilliant US goalkeeper Hope Solo (with a name straight out of central casting), the Brazilians were allowed to re-take a penalty which tied the game.  The reason?  Apparent encroachment, although someone from FIFA will have to explain why the referee chose this time to make one of the pickiest calls in FIFA history.

How sweet was it, then, that when it came time for the penalties, at the end of a hard fought and spirited 90 minutes plus full stoppage time of soccer, the Brazilians were flagged for a similar offense -- this time it was the goalkeeper coming off her line -- requiring another redo: and this time it was the US' turn to benefit, after the first American effort had been stopped in the shootout.  Although, to be fair, the Brazilian 'keeper was about halfway to the ball when it was struck, and there was virtually no way the referee, as incompetent as she was, could have ignored the foul.

Even more poetic was the reason the US had even made it to the shootout in the first place.  Cynically pretending to be injured, the Brazilian defender Erika lay on the ground time wasting for close to three minutes before finally being stretchered off. 

And hopping right off the very same stretcher as soon as she reached to the sideline.  Coincidence, or karmic justice, then, that Wambach scored in the third and final minute of stoppage time to take the contest to penalties?  I'll let you decide, but in the meantime Wambach and the US struck a major blow for all of us out there who hate time wasting and the fake injuries that mar the sport's reputation.

And that's when our heroine stepped up.  Having stonewalled the Samba-istas once before, with her stop being wrongfully denied by the referee, Hope Solo did it once again.  And put Brazil to the sword.

Taking the torch from their elder compatriots, the 2011 US Women's National Team stole the game, and crept back -- ever so slightly -- into mainstream America's consciousness with today's victory.  With another win on Wednesday, next weekend could truly be one to celebrate.

This is an energized farlieonfootie for July 11.

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