The top floor of Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square was filled with professional soccer players, coaches, staff, fans of the Boston Breakers and the U.S. Women’s National Team, a news team from the local NBC affiliate, and a pair of Japanese journalists.
The game itself could never live up to the epic slugfest of the semifinal match against Canada, but it provided plenty of drama and near misses. The sudden relief of Carli Lloyd’s eighth minute goal was palpable in the crowd, with the next few minutes spent joking how no one had even known that Lloyd was the actual goal scorer until the replay. Japan’s domination of the rest of the half meant the nerves set back in, and there was no U.S. bias amongst the crowd as everyone called out Tobin Heath’s handball.
The camera crews moved through the pub at half, interviewing former teammates of the national team players, head coach Lisa Cole, and the fans. Strategy was discussed, subs were suggested, and the general consensus was that unless something major changed, Japan would find the back of the net before long.
If the reaction to Carli Lloyd’s first goal was excitement, the reaction to her second was pure elation. She ran for what looked like forever, keeping her defender at bay on her left side. The re-emergence of Lloyd’s dominance in the midfield this Olympic tournament has provided some highlight worthy goals, and this strike certainly ranked as the finest goal in today’s game. Japan’s goal only a few moments later provoked a few cries of frustration, but mostly prompted grim looks of wanting to avoid repeating history.
The only louder moment in the second half came when Hope Solo made one of the most spectacular saves of the entire tournament on Mana Iwabuchi. Iwabuchi stripped Christie Rampone of the ball, and had a wide open look at goal and the jump on Solo. With the clock winding down, every Japanese touch on the ball still looked dangerous, but with a save like that, surely a win had to be in the cards.
The National Team will make headlines across the globe with their win. But the smaller stories of these Olympic games should be appreciated as well: The coverage on local NBC affiliates; The discussion on radio sports talk; The tweets from Barack and Michelle Obama. The excitement of celebrity fans like Samuel L. Jackson and Tom Hanks can and will bring awareness to the players on this team. These things add up over time.
The best benefit of watching the game with a group of people dedicated to women’s soccer wasn’t celebrating the win with wild cheers and toasts. It wasn’t the speculation about the new league, debating who will take Heather Mitts’ place as resident USWNT prankster, planning World Cup 2015 trips, or discussing the finer points of the game. The most satisfying moment came during the medal ceremony, as the three teams assembled on the podium at Wembley Stadium. The applause was constant at Tommy Doyle’s as the competitors of the past two games received their medals, with cheers and volume increases as Christine Sinclair received her medal, and for Japanese standouts Homare Sawa, Aya Miyama, and Yuki Ogimi. There was a particularly sweet round of applause for former Boston Breaker Aya Sameshima as well, in honor of the Japanese news crew.
This celebration was for the game itself, the players we watch in the United States, and the countries in the rest of the world – sheer appreciation for talent and what these women contribute to the development of the game home and abroad. Today wasn’t the best game for the United States. Japan could have just as easily been up on that podium receiving the gold medals.
At the end of the day, there are plenty of countries that are on the edge of surpassing the United States in ability, not just Japan. France, Sweden, Germany, Canada, and others. The future of the international women’s game is a bright one that seems to improve at an impossible rate.
The US will have to fight harder and smarter at every international tournament to keep their number one ranking. Today proved it’s not only a challenge that the players welcome, but one that the fans appreciate and respect as well.
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