This afternoon’s match between United States and Canada from Old Trafford in Manchester, England was one of the most exciting soccer matches I’ve ever watched, at any level, men’s or women’s. It was an Olympic semi-final match with a trip to Wembley Stadium for the gold medal match against Japan on the line, and if you might remember from 2011 there is a little bit of history between the United States and their “frenemies” from the Pacific, so this was a match that meant a whole lot to the Americans. You would think that playing against a country that borders you might also be a reason to win, but going into today’s match the United States hadn’t trailed Canada in over 9 years, spanning 21 matches since a Christine Sinclair goal gave the Canadians an advantage back in 2003. That streak ended today, in fact three times (all Sinclair goals), but Team USA battled back each time and eventually pulled the game out on the brink of penalty kicks, literally.
I won’t give a recap of this game, just for the fact that anything I write can and will not do this game justice. When I say this match was incredible, I mean it. Any soccer match that has 7 goals, 4 lead changes, a penalty kick, and plenty of physical play is one that is worth watching. Today’s match had all that and more as it was one of the most entertaining displays of soccer I have ever witnessed. And did I mention there was 123 minutes of action today instead of the usual 90? It’s not even possible to complain about that with how frantic the action was on the pitch in this match.
The only thing you need to know about the national women’s soccer team from Canada is that Christine Sinclair is really, really good. She is the Abby Wambach of our northern neighbors, and with the three goals that Sinclair scored today (in the 22nd, 67th, and 73rd minutes) Sinclair actually tied Wambach with 143 international goals all-time, still 15 short of the great Mia Hamm who has the world record of 158. More importantly, all three goals scored by Sinclair put the Canadians in front today but her and her teammates were not able to make any of those leads last when it mattered most.
For the United States, they will go as far as Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe take them. While Abby Wambach is the player who gets much of the glory (well deserved), Rapinoe and Morgan do a whole lot more of the dirty work and playmaking for Team USA. Wambach is the best finisher on the team and is at the striker position for a reason, but the without the hustle, grit, and determination that Morgan and Rapinoe put into each and every game there is no way that USA would be in this position to win a gold medal on Thursday. Even today the contributions from Rapinoe and Morgan couldn’t go unnoticed, as Rapinoe scored the first goal for the Americans directly from a corner kick, while Alex Morgan scored the epic goal in the 123rd minute to see USA through just seconds before the ref would blow the whistle that would have forced a penalty kick shootout had Morgan not scored. In between, Abby Wambach scored a penalty kick to tie the game up at 3-3, after a controversial series of events including a delay-of-game turnover by the Canadian goalkeeper and then a handball in the box on the ensuing indirect free-kick.
Ever since women’s soccer was introduced to the Olympics in Atlanta 1996, the women of USA have played in the gold medal match every time(winning it three times and losing just once). On Thursday, at Wembley Stadium the United States have another score to settle against Japan in a rematch of the 2011 Women’s World Cup final. In that match, Japan won on penalty kicks, the US was both mentally and physically fatigued and were not at their best when it came to the spot-kicks. That will be all be different on Thursday afternoon, as Wambach and her crew are ready to leave all their “human beingness” out of the pitch if it means winning the gold medal.
If Thursday’s match is anything like what we witnessed in 2011, or what we saw today, then it is must watch television. Paulie Pabst, producer of the Dan Patrick radio show, said that today’s match “was shown live should be shown again in primetime”, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. With all the implications of Thursday’s match, I’d expect it to be equally as thrilling. The United States doesn’t want to be held fully responsible for allowing Japan to become the first country to ever win a Women’s World Cup and then follow it up the next year with an Olympic gold medal, and I would be truly surprised if they allow that to happen. It should be an amazing match, though.