posted 03/29/14 at 3:44am
on Looking ahead to the Sweet 16
posted by All White Kit
Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 7:00am EDT
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SamuelLJackson: “Don’t know enuf about Soccer refs to know, but TV dude says he’s never SEEN that call made! Wow….we ll… TUFF S***!”
Yup, that’s what Samuel L. Jackson (indeed, that’s the same guy) sent to his 1,256,000 followers after the end of the U.S.-Canada game. I don’t know how much soccer Samuel has watched over the years (although we’ve seen him before), but in a game that is impossible to sum up in 1,400 words, let alone 140 characters, he did a pretty good job.
There is so much to talk about in this epic encounter that to spend too much time talking about a single referee’s decision will take away from how great this game (and this day) was for women’s soccer, but you have to start somewhere and we might as well get it out of the way.
In the 78th minute, Pia Sundhage and the U.S., trailing 3-2, had just played its trump card by substituting Sydney Leroux in for Amy LePeilbet and gone to a 3-4-3 formation. Megan Rapinoe put in a rare poor corner and Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod claimed it rather easily, falling to the ground as she did. She rose and was about to kick it quickly, then looked, saw her tired defense slow getting out, realized time was in her favor, took another couple of seconds, and punted the ball, as has been done thousands of times in last two decades (since the 6-step rule was changed to the 6-second rule for goalkeepers by FIFA) and likely hundreds of times at the Olympics.
We know what happened next. I don’t have a big problem with the ensuing penalty call that eventually allowed Abby Wambach to level the game, although common sense usually dictates that if you made one controversial call, you might let another questionable call against the same team go seconds later.
There are some that say that common sense has no place when we’re talking rules. They might be right. They might not.
But there is a rule that states that a goalkeeper must release the ball in six seconds. Not necessarily six seconds after they receive it (from the run of play), but – as it states here – six seconds after they are able to release it (as in not on the ground, how McLeod started). In watching the play again, I counted about eight legitimate seconds that McLeod had the ball.
So technically, she broke the rules, an indirect kick was correctly awarded and the U.S. eventually scored. There is no arguing that from here or anywhere, really.
However, to paraphrase Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee from A Few Good Men: “Yeah, but it wasn’t a real rule, was it? After all, it’s the Olympics. She wasn’t being asked to call a penalty or give out a red card. I mean, surely a referee of Christina Pedersen’s intelligence can be trusted to determine, on her own, which are the really important rules and which rules might, say, be morally questionable?”
If you know the movie, you know the response: “No she cannot.”
(Ironically, McLeod said after the game, she was warned, but “it wasn’t a real warning”. Really.)
In the years since it was adopted, I’ve seen the rule called a few times, usually by inexperienced refs who are subsequently told by more experienced ones that no one calls it anymore. One of my good friends constantly tells the story about how it was called a few years ago in a game where his team had a chance to pull an upset and he hasn’t seen that ref doing games anymore.
Yes, it’s a rule, but after I finish this story (later than I originally planned and rightfully so), I’ll drive down my street to the grocery store at 40 mph even though the speed limit is 30. I’ve driven the same road almost every day for seven years and have never been pulled over for speeding. I’ll let you know if I am tonight.
So, yes, Canada got hosed (excuse the pun) on that call in my opinion, for what it’s worth.
But, you know who else got screwed (in my opinion again, of course): the United States.
We do have short memories, don’t we? Back in the great year of ’11, the U.S. was up 1-0 over Brazil in the second half of the World Cup quarterfinals when Rachel Buehler was sent off and Brazil was given a penalty. That call was questionable (it was a different referee that day), but it wasn’t the one they got screwed on (like Canada). It was the dubious call that immediately followed, when Hope Solo saved Christiane’s penalty and it was ruled that an American (Amy LePeilbet?) had encroached, Marta slammed home the retake and the game was tied.
Encroachment? By less than a yard? When was the last time you saw that called? But it’s a rule, I guess.
Down to 10 women, the Americans fell behind in extra time, but found a way to advance with the now semi-trumped Abby Wambach amazing header.
We don’t talk about that one anymore because the Americans won, just as this would soon be forgotten if the Canadians prevailed.
In the end, as Karen Carney said after Great Britain’s loss to – again ironically Canada – (this is good enough to print in full again):
“It was a penalty but we’ve been beaten by a better team,’’ said Carney. “Yes, the referee wasn’t very good but you can’t focus on that. The referee turns up, you give them respect and let them get on with it.
“We’ve got a lot of fans now and I want to be a role model. We get a lot of positive feedback saying ‘we don’t dive, we don’t swear as much as the men’, so if that’s something they like, we have to continue to do that and be respectful. Even if we had harassed the referee, she wouldn’t have given it, so why bother?
“My mother taught me from 12 years old to show referees respect. I have a five-year-old niece Keira so I’d hate to be a bad role model for her.
“I took her out on the pitch afterwards to enjoy all the Olympic experience. It’s about a legacy, and I look at her and it’s about her and all the other girls like her.”
I tip my hat to Canada, which seems to suddenly have a much brighter future. And if Christine Sinclair’s 143 international goals didn’t make her one of the best ever (she already was, of course), today’s performance will give detractors no argument.
This one will hurt for a long, long time in Canada, probably for three years until (soccer gods willing) they have a chance at revenge against their southern neighbors on home soil in a knockout round game at the 2015 World Cup.
Until then? Tuff s***, unfortunately, Canada, you just have to move on.
Here’s what else we learned in the United States’ thrilling 4-3 extra time win over Canada:
1) Did we mention Christine Sinclair was good?
It looked like, while she was still a huge threat for Canada, Sinclair’s production might be declining and Canada was declining with her. We (and I) wondered aloud what might be left of Sinclair and Canada by the time 2015 rolled around. But this performance was just massive for her and her country. No matter what happens (well maybe injuries or something), there will now be a huge buzz for the host nation heading into the next World Cup. Do we have to wait three years?
2) Canada, obviously, can keep their heads mighty high
As with their previous two games, there was nothing cynical (except for possibly some Melissa Tancredi stuff late after she got frustrated) about their performance. Their first goal was world-class with Tancredi combining with Sinclair, the second goal was a perfect cross from Sophie Schmidt on to Sinclair’s head, and the third was all Sinclair on a corner. They had other chances, never sat back and bunkered (even when they took the lead), and looked every bit the part of a top-four team in the world. Which is much better than they were a few weeks ago, let alone a year ago.
3) However, the United States was still the better team
Perhaps not by the margin I anticipated, but the U.S. led in shots (18-9) and possession (54-46). I thought they had a little better of the play and the chances, although – to reiterate – Canada played well and it was no fluke they were in extra time. But it’s not like the U.S. was outplayed for 120 minutes and stole the game, either.
4) Megan Rapinoe and well-worked set plays
Lost in the shuffle (with some other things) was Rapinoe’s ridiculous second goal that tied the game a second time. An absolutely perfect strike from an angle that wasn’t great at a critical time. Pretty much sums up Megan Rapinoe these days. It’s obvious how much she brings to the table now, but it wasn’t long ago she didn’t have a starting job, so you have to give Pia Sundhage some credit for showing confidence in her (belatedly, probably, but better late than never) of late. It’s certainly made a big difference.
The first goal was a tremendous well-worked corner by the U.S. They knew when Alex Morgan ran short that she would pull Desiree Scott off of the front post (as the second player). Rachel Buehler then charged toward the open area, Rapinoe put the ball in a dangerous area and got the goal. But dragging the player off the front post was the plan all along, methinks.
5) I had no problem with Pia staying with the 3-4-3
It seemed a little crazy, but if you watched some of the lead-up matches, the U.S. was quite dangerous in that formation, and with Canada tiring, why not go for the win? Yes, they were exposed a couple of times, but Canada had scored three times when the U.S. had four in the back, hadn’t they? Does she dare go with a 3-4-3 in the final? Probably not, but with the game on the line late and everything turning into chaos anyway, why not? Go for the gold, right? Besides, you want to get Sydney Leroux on the field, too, right?
6) Alex Morgan didn’t have a great game
Blasphemy, I know. And sometimes all is takes is a goal to give you confidence, and hopefully that will carry over into the final. She was an occasional threat, but made some poor decisions with the ball and was unable to pick out runners in some others. Again, I’m sure that goal will obviously do wonders for her confidence, and if “it” is defined as scoring big goals when your team needs them, Morgan certainly has “it”.
7) It’s hard to find too much wrong with the Canadian defense
They gave up four goals, and probably will feel they should have done better on three of them (minus the penalty), but – given the fact it wasn’t their first-choice operation back there – they did an admirable job. I talked about the first goal. On the second, you can fault Marie-Eve Nault a little, but Rapinoe’s blast was world-class. On the winning goal, they just had nothing left to give, poor Desiree Scott (who is so fun to watch) was hobbling around, no one could get to Heather O’Reilly to stop service, and Morgan was covered on her winning header, it was just perfect. I thought McLeod played perhaps her best game of the tournament as well. Just the way things go sometimes.
I don’t think the U.S. defense played terribly, either
You can argue that they should have marked Christine Sinclair tighter and Carli Lloyd was nowhere to be seen on the first goal, but there were no monumental gaffes like there was against France, not even any that didn’t result in goals that I can remember. And we saw Becky Sauerbrunn come in and a tough spot and make some good decisions late, too. So not much complaining from me about the defense, and I think that bodes well for the final.
9) A big night for women’s soccer
The first game between France-Japan saw an amazing second half, but this clearly topped it. When they talk about Games of the Year in any sport, this will certainly be near the top of the list, and that should be great for the game. I say “should” because, well, you know. But people took notice of the U.S. (and women’s soccer) at the World Cup last year, and they certainly will again here. If the lead-in games drew fantastic crowds, what will the celebration games draw? Can we sneak Canada in there for one, because ….
10) If a rivalry isn’t born, it’s certainly renewed
While it’s a little disappointing to see John Herdman’s comments both before and after the game, if he was looking to build a rivalry (even if it’s been 27 games since Canada has beaten the U.S.), he might have one now. And even if there’s a little bad blood, that shouldn’t be bad for business. What I don’t like most about Herdman and Sinclair’s comments is that they question the integrity of the officials. You can say you get screwed, you can say it was the worst call you’ve ever seen, but don’t insinuate the game was fixed or anything. But I’m sure they feel terrible.
It’s hard to watch that final goal from a Canadian perspective. Only seconds to go, tired bodies everywhere, they had a couple of chances to clear, couldn’t, the ball falls to Rapinoe to Wambach to O’Reilly, Canadian players trying to close her down, but just can’t get there. And the rest will be history. Small margins, indeed.
We’ll obviously have a finals preview on Wednesday, but the bronze medal game is still big for a now banged-up Canada against France. Canada had not won a medal in a traditional team sport since Berlin 1936.
Women’s league next year?
Yeah, I won’t even go there.
Been waiting for this one
One of my favorite chants of all-time.
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