Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Once More With Feeling

On the Field of Dreams, where excellence is expected, where skill is commonplace and victory required, one of the greatest games of all time was played by women, North American women.

It matters little whether you claim the USA or Canada as your champion; they came to Old Trafford, battered, slugged, and mauled each other for one hundred and twenty-three minutes to settle a question which still lingers.

Who won?

You may have wondered why this week’s posts have been just show listings and news items and the truth is I have been so absorbed by the battles of Captain America and the Avengers that I haven’t had time for anything else.

I say without shame I am a fan. I fell in love with the US Women’s National Soccer team during the 1999 World Cup and have followed them through heartbreak and triumph ever since.

I still choke up when I see “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World”,
Brandi Chastain’s winning penalty shot against the Chinese in that final shootout.

I have watched the “Fab Five” mature, become legends and retire, their record set, their battles won and their time sadly past. I have watched as the young lions grew and find their places on the pitch and set records of their own. I have agonized and wept as the mighty have fallen, Abby Wambach’s broken leg before the last Olympics and the loss to the Japanese in last year’s World Cup.

I’ve worried that time would run out on Capt before she could get the gold she surely deserves, (The greatest racing driver of all time Sir Sterling Moss never became a world champion and I am sure if you asked he’d give it all up for the World’s Driver’s Championship), but I don’t want that to be the epitaph for Capt.

I have felt the vicarious pride when even in defeat Abby held her head high and came home a hero, and I have watched as she prodded, encouraged and lead her teammates to this jumping off point.

Abby Wambach doesn’t ask her teammates to play up to their best, she expects them to play up to her best and she does so not by bullying or hectoring but by always being the best, every day, every practice, every game, every minute.

Now there are some pretty good guys on the other side of the ball. Christine Sinclair had the game of her life and since she is likely to be the greatest goal scoring woman of all time greatest is only as good as the last stat sheet. She will be on top of the stats before the World Cup and likely lead her Canadian Team to top of the pile. Oh, and just so you don’t think she’s waiting for that moment she did score three goals, the hat trick, against the best goalie in the world, Hope Solo.

Sophie Schmidt did a passable Megan Rapinoe impression and made life interesting for the US defense. These Maple Leafs know a thing or two about the beautiful game.

And they brought it.

They threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Capt and her girls and they came damn close.

And yes, let’s talk, there were bad calls. Bad calls are unfortunately part of the game. So if you want I’ll concede that the delay penalty shouldn’t have been called if you’ll agree Melissa Tencredi should have had a red card, been sent off immediately and suffered a two game ban for dangerous play. But that didn’t happen. And what that would have changed is the stuff for long winter’s evenings where there is snow on the ground a fire in the fireplace and some strong drink in the cup.

So here it is, the Canadians brought fire and brimstone to the most sacred place in the world of soccer and three times they put the Staties on their ass, but they didn’t drive a stake through the heart of the US team and if you don’t, they will come get you.

I do not know what tomorrow will bring. I have already admitted I am a fan. I have confessed deep concern that Abby will retire without the honors she so richly deserves, that the Avengers will once more only hold silver and that this team will always be known as the one who couldn’t win the big one.

But I say, as I did last summer after the final whistle of the World Cup, look out London, Captain America is coming and you’d better be ready.

The Japanese are great technicians, they have all of the skills to win and they have much to drive their passions. But they do not bring the art and the finesse that the US has aplenty.

So let me help you Japan. To win this game you have to stuff Megan Rapinoe. The Gnat has shown that left lose to drive the touchline she will wreck the defense. Unmarked she’ll curl the ball into Abby or the goal herself. Unwatched she'll hary, harass and steal the play from anyone.

You must blunt Lauren Cheney in the middle. She can score from thirty meters out, drive the box and blunt an attack just when it shows promise.

You must bury Alex Morgan. The Baby Horse has the pace to run rings around the best defense and you do not want her free behind your back line.

If you do all of that you have to keep an eye on Carli Lloyd, she’s dangerous a long way out and can disrupt an attack and be on the break before you know what’s happened.

And if you do all of that, if, there’s one more thing, Captain America Abby Wambach, five games-five goals any questions?

The answer will come tomorrow, the answer that has been a year in the making. When you play the game like our US women, it is kinetic art at it finest.

The Capt and the Avengers will do what they do and will be winners no matter the final score. No one rocks harder than Abby Wambach and the United States Women’s Olympic Soccer Team.

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