U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Proves It’s Something Special In Thrilling Victory Over Brazil

The ground ball through Bill Buckner’s legs.

Christian Laettner in the final second of double overtime v. Kentucky.

John Elway and the 98-yard drive.

Now it’s time to add Abby Wambach in the 122nd minute to the collection.

This is why you never turn a sports event off until the end (something Milwaukee Brewers fans got a good lesson about this weekend), and ESPN and the soccer world got their instant classic in the epic and controversial United States v. Brazil World Cup quarter-final on Sunday.

The match seemed to turn irreversibly in the 65th minute when referee Jacqui Melksham decided to go ‘Balkin’ Bob Davidson’ on the proceedings, awarding a penalty kick and red-carding American defender Rachel Buehler after an iffy call on Brazilian star Marta in the penalty area.

But then USWNT keeper Hope Solo, who to that point had not conceded a single goal in four and a half plus previous matches against the Brazilians, stopped the ensuing penalty kick to seemingly preserve the American’s one-nil lead.

Not so fast.

Ref Jacqui determined that a U.S. player had jumped into the penalty area before the Brazilian’s attempt, allowing a do-over, the equivalent of allowing Steve Nash to attempt a second free throw after missing the first.

There would be no stay of execution the second time, as Marta was sent up for the second attempt and this time made no mistake scoring the equalizing tally and leveling the score at one.

As announcer Ian Darke said, it was the ultimate triple-whammy: Rachel Buehler got an unwanted rest of the day off; the Americans were forced to play the final 25 minutes of regulation, and 30 minutes of extra time, shorthanded; and Solo’s incredible PK save was disallowed.

And when Marta scored early in the extra session, the United States team’s task might as well have been climbing Mt. Everest.

Even though the U.S. side was taking on much of the attack playing 10 on 11, scoring a second goal (the U.S. team got a break early in the match forcing an own goal) seemed to be too tall an order.

That is, until that fateful 122nd minute (out of 123) — the extra three minutes added on after a Brazilian player won a Best Supporting Actress award milking out a supposed injury. Blondie Megan Rapinoe played a ball towards the far post and star Abby Wambach, who had been criticized for not finishing off goals in previous games, headed it right into the net to level the game at 2.

Did we just see that??? That was the soccer equivalent of a buzzer-beater, as the U.S. was literally seconds away from heading home. You could understand the incredible emotion once the team came through in the final penalty kick session.

I don’t try to sell people on soccer. As someone once said, trying to get the U.S. turned on to soccer is like trying to convince Americans on the Metric System. It may fly in the rest of the world, but that doesn’t mean the sport necessarily flies here.

But almost regardless of what happens from here on out in the Women’s World Cup, Megan to Wambach instantly becomes #1 on the list of all-time great U.S. Soccer moments, women’s or men’s.

There was the equally dramatic Tim Howard heave to Landon Donovan leading to a late 1-nil win over Algeria to get the men’s team out of the group stage of the 2010 World Cup. But that was Algeria, that only got the men’s side to the Round of 16, and until the USMNT can get past the likes of Ghana, never mind Brazil, and play late into that tournament, the men’s team doesn’t have that benchmark moment.

A few of the talking points from the U.S. v. Brazil Instant Classic…

THE REFEREE

When two evenly matched teams collide, the match often comes down to one or two moments, and unfortunately the ref comes in front and center on many occasions, and cannot win one way or another. Maybe the penalty shouldn’t have been called, and maybe the red card shouldn’t have been given. It’s an extremely heavy price. But Buehler did tug on Marta’s jersey. It’s like pass interference in the NFL, with plenty of gray area when it comes to calling the penalty or not.

Then came the first penalty attempt, where Ian Darke and Julie Foudy were assuming that Solo was being called for moving before the kick. The real violation was the U.S. player entering the box before the ball was kicked, similar to a lane violation on a basketball free throw.

And then there was Erika, who I will get to later, who should had definitely gotten at least a yellow (if not a red) for her late-game acting.

But it wasn’t like the American side did not get breaks as well. A hand-ball on a U.S. player who had already received a yellow card was not called, so conceivably the Americans could have ended up in the impossible situation of playing 9 on 11.

ERIKA

The faking injury scenarios never play well to a North American audience who strongly believes that players just need to rub some dirt on their wounds. It happens on a regular basis in soccer. This year in the English Premier League I even saw a player get up to confront a player after being spiked, then saw his leg bleeding, then decided to collapse in hopes of getting a card on the opponent.

And keep in mind footballers are gassed after 90 minutes, let alone 120 minutes, not to mention no timeouts and only three substitutions per side. By the end of a match midfielders often have run the equivalent of a 10K. And late in games when a player takes a bump, it is often common practice/gamesmanship for the player to take a knee just to get not him/herself a blow, but their teammates as well.

But Erika’s stunt went beyond that. Seconds after taking a nudge, the Brazilian decided to simply fall and not get up with the ref not looking. After a minute (the trainers treating her like she had a cramp) she was placed on a stretcher and taken off the pitch, until she magically unbuckles herself, jumps off, and runs down the end-line.

Myself, considering the events of the final minutes, that gamesmanship ended up helping the U.S. get a second wind more.

FIFA ought to come up with a new rule though: anytime someone is stretchered off with an imaginary injury in extra time, they should be forced to be handcuffed to the thing for five minutes.

IAN DARKE

I’m not an ESPN fan and don’t like a lot of their analysts, but they got hiring Ian Darke a couple years ago right. In previous World Cups/International competitions the network has gone with the likes of Dave O’Brien (baseball guy who gave it a try), or even worse, Jack Edwards (now works for the Boston Bruins, whose own fans even despise him). And I think John Paul Dellacamera has been calling the other U.S. International matches for something like 40 years now.

The Worldwide Leader could have gone out and tried to find a soccer version of Mike Emrick (who’s good at explaining Hockey for Dummies but is far from the best hockey announcer), but instead found someone who’s not only good in calling the English Premier League fixtures (ESPN now has part of that contract), but can also call the game brilliantly while explaining the nuances to an American audience.

Darke (and Foudy) were not totally flawless in the U.S/Brasil telecast (Foudy needs to work on her math to figure out how much time’s remaining). But while not being a cheerleader for the U.S. squads, Darke’s calls of Wambach’s goal (and Donovan’s goal last year) have been quite epic without going overboard. He understands that the game in America will never be as big as the NFL or even MLB/NBA, but also knows that there is a growing interest and his passion for the event carries over to the viewers.

The gold standard (even for those who do not speak Spanish) is still the Andres Cantor GGGOOOLLLL!!!!! calls, but Darke’s presence has made it worthwhile to stay with the ESPN feed (and the HD images) over that of Univision.

So the U.S. plays France of Wednesday, with the winner of that game playing the winner of Japan/Sweden on Sunday for the title. With host Germany upset this weekend, the U.S. will enjoy massive support, not only from neutral fans but from U.S. serviceman and their families currently in the country, a 180 degree turn from the U.S. hosted Gold Cup a few weeks back that saw the final at the Rose Bowl over-run with Mexican supporters at the Rose Bowl for the U.S. v. Mexico match.

If you need an excuse to get off work one day this week, Wednesday might be the day to do it; the USWNT has become something special.



About Kurt Allen

Have written/blogged about sports since 2000, along with starting my popular Twitter feed in 2009. I also closely follow fantasy sports developments, along with events such as the NFL Draft.

Comments

  1. Actually, Jack Edwards is quite beloved by the NESN viewing audience.

  2. Paul Blart says:

    Hey Kurt – When did John Elway have a 99-yard drive? Do you proof-read this nonsense before you post it? If this is the type of crap that passes for journalism on this site, perhaps I should send you a copy of the treatment I wrote about my bowel movement this morning.

    • Oops, that was my mistake. It was a 98-yard drive, not 99. I’m the one responsible for proof-reading so I should have caught that. We are terribly sorry that being one-yard off obscured what otherwise was (I thought) a terrific breakdown of the USWNT’s thrilling win.

  3. Happy Happy Feet says:

    Kurt, decent article. Yesterday's game should go down as one of the more impressive wins for any American team in any sport. However, when praising this team I feel that people too often neglect a negative trend that has evolved since the 1999 thriller. Not to take away from these incredible female athletes but what started out as confidence and swagger after the title 12 years ago, has slowly degraded into a sense of arrogance and entitlement. Early on the women took the obligatory bite out of humble pie, praising teammates and coaches for their accomplishments. Nowadays, you hear more and more personal pronouns in their postgame reveling. "I just made the perfect pass" "My footwork in the second half changed the tide of the game". Don't take these quotes at face value, just reflecting the overall individual mentality in press conferences, twitter updates etc. I don't want to blame the athletes themselves, but it might just be a product of the generation they were born into.

  4. Ed Lowry says:

    Sorry Kurt Allen, You forgot to mention Brazil's second goal which came from a player in an offside position to which goal should not have been allowed. The officials were being so tight on the offside calls that they got that one incorrect. Most of your commentary was fair in parts, , but you should stick to your baseball. Commentary from non-soccer old school reporters is slowly fading with the new blood coming into reporting. And over time and will continue to do so. Sorry you had to cover the soccer/football game, that really has a more true World Champion, unlike the Baseball World series which should be called" States Series in all honesty.

  5. Jon_Twitch says:

    Kurt, I enjoyed the article, but I think you were MUCH too nice to the officials.

    I have reffed soccer for 13 years now, and what I saw yesterday almost never occurs…unless the US is playing on the world stage (men or women).

    Sure, Buehler grabbed Marta, but Marta ALSO grabbed Buehler. The challenge was NOT from behind. And no additional contact was made.

    In my opinion, it shouldn\’t have been a PK, but you will probably see one called 20% of the time there. The red card was worse though. That shouldn\’t have even been a yellow card. Marta did not have a \”clear goal-scoring opportunity\” because she did not have control of the ball, and again, the challenge was made from the side, not behind.

    Also, Brazil\’s SECOND goal was a clear offsides as well. Neither of those mistakes was minor…both could have decided the game.

    Unfortunately, it\’s just another case of the world hating America and choosing their sport (soccer) to actually try and make a point.

  6. I did not watch, but received all the tweets. Kurt, good work. I am glad you and Hope Solo had such a nice victory :)

  7. Now that Solo has admitted to a drug infraction, perhaps the US matches will not be “overrun” with US supporters. It is obviously a very subjective game. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. I do credit Kurt for not whining about the much deserved loss to Japan.

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