USA, USA – Soccer at its Fluky Best

USA, USA.

 

Could it be that I was watching one of the most dramatic games of the century disguised as the FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal clash between USA and Brazil?

 

Somehow, I forgot to watch it, but happened to tune into one of the ESPNs, only to find that Brazil was beating our ladies 2-1 in about the 105th minute. In international soccer, 2-1 seems to be the equivalent of 54-27 in the NFL.

 

I was now watching and listening, as the broadcasters were bemoaning the fact that this heroic American team—forced to play one “man” down for about an hour because of a terrible call by an official—was running out of time to stay in the tournament.

 

They were now in extra time, which adds 30 more running minutes onto the clock, plus an arbitrary amount of time for  various stoppages due to real injuries, fake injuries, hissy fits (although there are more of these in men’s matches) and broken nails. The beauty of the extra time is that nobody seems to know how much time is really left in the contest, or is it a match, a friendly, or an international incident?

 

 

The game, played in Dresden, Germany—which used to be behind the Berlin Wall—got here because it was tied in regulation. The US scored on a fluke; Brazil scored as a result of  two very controversial calls.

 

A note to readers: Because this is Brazil, I will identify almost all of the players with single names; Brazilian soccer players don’t do last names. Think Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Ke$ha; the first three have talent.

 

 

Just seventy four seconds into the game, the US struck first…well, sort of. Amy was tackled by some Brazilian (Charo?) and earned one of those free kicks where the other team's players form a wall while guarding their privates. Lauren took the kick but struck it poorly and it hit the Brazil Wall. She recovered, passed it to Captain Christie, who tried to direct it to her teammate, but the ball was knocked away by Daiane, of Brazil. The problem? Daiane knocked it into her own net.

 

USA, USA

 

The Americans were on the board because of this gift, and their benefactor (poor Daiane) will forever get credit for an “own goal”, which is akin to wearing a scarlet letter or stamping “I f’d up royally” on her forehead.

 

An eternity or two later, the game went from fluky to controversial. In the 65th minute, Brazil’s great Marta, who is the five-time reigning FIFA Women’s Player of the Year—which is the equivalent to being the five-time reigning FIFA women’s Player of the Year—was judged to have been tackled by Rachel Buehler. Buehler was red-carded, which mean three things: Buehler was disqualified from the game, the US could not replace her for the duration of the contest, and Brazil got a free kick.

 

For some reason, Cristiane, not Marta, took the free kick, which one has to almost try not to score on to miss. In a free kick, the shooter stands just 12 yards away from a goal that is 24 feet wide and eight feet high. The goalie (the US goalie is the aptly named Hope Solo; she deserves to have two names) can’t move until the ball is hit, and wouldn’t you know it…Hope Solo deflected Christiane’s shot wide.

 

USA, USA.

 

This being soccer, the heroic save and 1-0 (if fluky) lead did not stand. The ref ruled that Hope gave us false hope by encroaching, or moving too soon. This being soccer, Brazil came to their senses and let Marta shoot this time— and of course, she scored.

 

1-1. Buehler? Buehler?

 

A little perspective here. Soccer is the most played, and most followed, sport in the world, and the World Cup (especially the men’s but also the women’s) is THE tournament. It takes nothing away from my appreciation of the athleticism involved to state that international soccer is dull, fluky, arbitrary and well, idiotic.

 

Take the 2006 men’s final between Italy and France. Italy won the game, 2-1 on free (penalty) kicks, essentially because France’s captain and best player in the match and the tournament (Zinedine Zidane) was red-carded for head-butting an Italian player in the chest.

 

How about the women’s World Cup? The “Game of the Century” for women’s sports, as hyped, came exactly twelve years before this USA-Brazil clash. USA, the host country, was playing against then-arch rival China in the final. The US team, led by Mia Hamm, did a brilliant job marketing itself and drew huge ratings for the final.

 

The game itself? A snoozefest, unless you like watching scoreless soccer matches. After 90 minutes, plus thirty more, plus whatever other time added, nobody could score. Of course, this Game of the Century was decided by penalty kicks.

 

The penalty kick is the same as a direct fee kick, which is almost impossible not to score on. The teams alternate PKs, choosing five players, each taking their turn to more or less try to fall out of a boat and hit water, On that day, July 10, 1999, US goalie Brianna Scurry made one save, and that was enough for Brandi Chastain to score, rip off her shirt and expose a sports bra and an enviable six-pack.

 

 

Back to yesterday…

 

With the score tied 1-1, Brazil finally scored a legitimate goal when Marta took a pass from Maurine and somehow used her left foot to flick it over her head and into the US goal.

 

I tuned in shortly after this, figuring that I’d endure the last few minutes before doing something useful for mankind like watching the Phillies or taking Benny to the playground. And then, the miracle happened, but not before something incredibly silly transpired.

 

With whatever double-secret time was left, one of Brazil’s defenders (Shakira?) was gently nudged in the back and sprawled on the turf as if she had received a spinal tap with a cattle prod. Luckily, the officials did not red-card anyone else, but a stretcher came to take Shakira off the field. (Apologies to the real Shakira, but I’m running out of names and time. If you’re reading this, I’ll gladly take you out to dinner.)

 

Once the stretcher left the field, Shakira suddenly stopped faking it and sprinted back onto the field after the next whistle. Perhaps, the officials added more extra time to punish that classless stunt, but who knows…this is soccer, y’all.

 

I was getting anxious to watch a real sport when it sudenly happened. The Americans had one last chance and got control of the ball nearly 110 yards from the Brazil goal. The ball was passed to Carli at midfield who sent it to the left side to Megan—who was heretofore most famous for scoring a goal in this tourney, and then grabbing an on-field mic and warbling, “Born in the USA” to (mostly) cheers.

 

The Springsteen karaoke stylist deftly sent the ball across the field with her left foot, and amazingly put it in the perfect position for a leaping Abby to head it into the net from about seven feet away.

 

USA, USA…and just seconds away from deciding this match on penalty kicks.

 

First up from the US was Shannon, whose shot was stopped…but wait…Brazil goalie Andreia obviously moved too soon. Encroachment; try again, Shannon…score!  Brazil matched it with a goal by Christiane. 1-1 on the PKs.

 

Carli then scored, which was matched by Marta, and then Abby knocked hers into the net. Up stepped Daiane, who was already wearing the scarlet letter. She kicked it to her left, Hope Solo guessed right, and she was right…no goal for Brazil, and Daiane now wears goat horns on top of her scarlet-lettered jersey.

 

That was essentially the contest, with Ali salting it away by giving the US a 5-3 lead (no sense for Brazil to knock in a fourth penalty kick to reduce that margin).

 

Admittedly, by the end of the game—and mostly because of that jump-off-the-stretcher cheesy stunt by Shakira—I was rooting hard for the Americans, and my jingoistic sports side came out. It’s not enough for me to watch the semis and finals, but, it does take me back to that match of 12 years ago, and I’ll keep this anecdote short.

 

July 10, 1999 was my first date with Ruby (who hails from China). I was going to pick her up for dinner shortly after the US-China match. We had planned to get together the previous week, but she ended up going on a camping trip with friends over that July 4 weekend.

 

During the overtime, Ruby called me and asked if I was watching the match. I was. Since the match kept dragging on, she later asked me if I wanted to postpone our date. I told her no thanks; I’d be over right after the match.

 

Before even dating her, I already liked at least three things about her. She loved the outdoors, she was an apparent sports fan, and she was very considerate. I did worry after she cooked her first meal for me a month later; the soup that she made was, well, horrific.

 

I say all this to remind myself and others not to fall prey to hype, and to always keep an open mind.

 

As for my lovely wife, Ruby, she hasn’t been camping since (nor have I), she's never willingly turned on a sporting event in my presence, but yes, she is quite considerate. As for her cooking, 12 years of delicious food and twenty pounds later, I can tell you that she can flat-out fill my stomach with gastronomic delights.

 

As always, thank you for reading. Please check out my other blogs, books, and speaking information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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