That was a pretty great game, wasn’t it? Well, except for the ending. Here’s what I learned:
Japan are deserving winners We heard so much about USA’s determination and resiliency and will to win, and while none of that was untrue, it did sort of shortchange the other teams. (As if Germany and France and Brazil and all the rest were just lacking in want-to.) Yesterday we saw a great display of determination by a team other than USA. Other teams might conceivably have packed it in with three minutes left to go in extra time, but the Japanese kept working until they got Homare Sawa’s brilliant equalizer. After everything the Japanese team went through, it’s no surprise that Hope Solo and other American observers concluded that Japan was a team of destiny. Still, even that conclusion doesn’t quite do justice to the extraordinary soccer that Japan played throughout this tournament. They deserve to take their place (alongside USA, Germany, and Brazil) as the newest superpower in women’s soccer.
Coach Pia Sundhage deserves a certain amount of credit because despite the loss, USA didn’t lose in the same way as Germany and Sweden before them. Instead of being suffocated by a technically gifted team that kept the ball away from them, USA did a reasonably good job at keeping possession and taking the game to the Japanese. By going ahead twice, they forced the Japanese into the unfamiliar position of chasing the game. It was a sound strategy.
USA still should have closed this game out If I’m Coach Sundhage, I’m haunted by that one substitution that she left unused at game’s end. Becky Sauerbrunn did a terrific job against France in place of the suspended Rachel Buehler. Couldn’t the coach have killed off the last five minutes of extra time by inserting Sauerbrunn for a midfielder or striker and pulling back into a five-man defense? Or, if the coach wanted to stick with a 4-4-2 alignnment, couldn’t she have removed Heather O’Reilly, shifted Ali Krieger to right wing, and inserted either Sauerbrunn or Heather Mitts? (Going to Mitts would have been a risky move given that she hadn’t seen the field yet in the tournament, but it would have been a nice sentimental gesture for a player who’s had such rotten luck with World Cups, and it might conceivably have worked.) This is a huge what if.
Alex Morgan is the future of the U.S. women’s soccer team Speed, strength, and goal-scoring touch, this 22-year-old has it all, and had USA won, she would have been the most valuable player of the finals. There are other solid pieces in place for World Cup 2015, but Morgan is the one who looks like a world-beater. If not for a couple of breaks, she would have been that yesterday.
The 2012 Summer Olympics will be very interesting That’s the other major tournament for women’s soccer, and though it’s sometimes overlooked because so much else is going on, it’s going to be well worth checking out. You figure USA and Japan will be on hand along with Brazil (still looking for their first tournament victory). The Germans are out (thanks to a boneheaded move by the European confederation, who used the World Cup as a qualifying tournament for the Olympics), but the Swedes and the French both look strong, and the latter are making their own case to be considered a superpower. The British will be hosting, and their team is talented but seemingly in a bit of turmoil. If you got hooked on the drama of this incredible tournament, there’s another chapter of women’s soccer history to be written next summer. Stay tuned, America.