By now you all know that the United States Women’s National team beat Brazil 5-3 on penalty kicks on Sunday (and if you didn’t know that, you have come to the right place to read about it). Abby Wambach scored in the final seconds of extra time (the 122nd minute to be exact) and the U.S. marched on to a triumphant victory over the Brazil. You can check out my thoughts on how determination helped this U.S. squad prevail and check out my piece on FOX Soccer about how leadership kept the U.S. moving forward in this game.
As an incredible (and energy draining) day comes to a close, here are 10 talking points from this battle of world superpowers:
1. The United States absolutely lived up to the “Heart Attack Kids” nickname they have recently developed. Wambach’s goal was the latest ever scored in Women’s World Cup history (the 122nd minute) and was just utterly spectacular. The delivery from Rapinoe was spot-on, the header from Wambach was clinical and the determination from the entire team was incredible.
2. That goal looked strangely similar to Landon Donovan’s against Algeria last year. Think about it. The United States went the full length of the field in the dying seconds of the match in need of a result, the team’s best forward scored an incredible goal that lifted the spirits of the entire country and the forward (Donovan last year and Wambach this year) slid into the corner flag to celebrate with the team. Oh yea, and Ian Darke was calling the game. Eerily similar.
3. Christie Rampone was the team’s best player and Ali Krieger was a close second. There is no arguing that Rampone had looked like she lost a step following the birth of her second child last year. There is also no arguing that she completely erased that notion on Sunday, going stride for stride with Marta. How she has never made the shortlist for World Player of the Year is beyond me. Could this improbably be the year? And Krieger has been one of the U.S.’ best players this tournament. She’s been great on both sides of the ball and of course she finished the fifth penalty kick for the U.S. on Sunday.
4. As expected, Hope Solo changed the game. She is the best goalkeeper in the world and she proved it yet again on Sunday. She saved Cristiane’s first penalty kick (which did not count) and then denied Daiane on Brazil’s third penalty kick. I told you, she’s a game changer.
5. Marta is a game-changer, too. Not that we didn’t already know that, but Marta is just a cut above the rest. Even on a day that the U.S. contained her pretty well, she still managed two goals. She is the world’s best, but she cannot do it alone…
6. That said, she may never win a World Cup. Unless Brazil can develop its players, make progress on a domestic league and train its national team together more. The bottom line is that the better team won on Sunday. It is not that Marta does not have great players around her. She is surrounded by a group of great players, but not a unified team. The fighting and bickering was a problem for Brazil. On a more positive note, Cristiane, who was poor in WPS with Chicago in 2010, was Brazil’s best player on Sunday.
7. The foul called on Rachel Buehler is still questionable. Yes, I understand the rules. If Buehler did foul Marta than it is a penalty kick and a red card, since Buehler would be the last defender and denying a goal-scoring opportunity. But as much as Buehler may have been tugging at the jersey a bit, it was still a pretty routine 50-50 challenge. Now the encroachment call? Still torn. It didn’t affect the play at all and I have to wonder why referee Jacqui Melksham is watching the top of the box instead of the kick taking place.
8. Now what? Buehler has played every minute at center back this Women’s World Cup. So who lines up with Rampone in defense on Wednesday against France? It will be either Stephanie Cox or Becky Sauerbrunn added to the line-up. Sauerbrunn was spectacular at center back in the tune-up games, but Pia Sundhage could look to slide LePeilbet centrally, where she is more comfortable, and play Cox at left back. If Sundhage is looking for her four best defenders, Sauerbrunn is the best option.
9. The sweeper got exposed. Brazil’s sweeper with two marking backs – which still has me scratching my head trying to recollect some sort of medieval football tactics – did not work. It’s a chaotic system that was exposed on both U.S. goals. It’s narrow defensive shape was picked apart on the first goal the Americans scored and its deep line kept Wambach onside on the second goal.
10. America cares. This could be the most important win in the history of the U.S. Women’s National Team. No it doesn’t match winning the World Cup in 1991 or more importantly, 1999. But this win had the entire country watching – NBA stars, NFL players, rappers, everyone. This is in the argument – heck it leads the argument – for the most epic game in Women’s World Cup history. Even the neutral Germans were willing on the Americans. The U.S. women needed this. Women’s Professional Soccer needed this. It certainly does not hurt soccer in general in the U.S. This team is getting more attention than it has seen since 1999, but now it must finish off the job and win the next two games. Much like U.S. hockey won the ‘big game’ in 1980 in the semifinals against U.S.S.R. but still had to beat Finland in the final to cap off the miracle run, the U.S. women are staring down a tenacious French team in the semifinal. For the Americans, it’s one step at a time.
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