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UPDATED with a link to the official video of the goal, below.
Deep breaths taken, heart rate reduced somewhat but still in triple digits, brain sagging slack-jawed in cranium after cranking out more endorphins than it maybe ever has. Holy shit. Holy fucking shit. What a game. The US WNT went beyond exceeding expectations that were a tad low coming into the last round of friendly tuneups, that took a nosedive when Wambach went down with the kind of leg destruction that leaves horses euthanized on the track, that dropped completely off the radar after a sluggish 0-2 opening-match drubbing by Norway. Instead of panicking, Pia Sundhage made adjustments and the players responded, improving their games with every match.
Still, coming into this one my stomach was in knots. The US had beaten Brazil 1-0 the last three times they'd met, but in each of those Brazil played without their supernaturally fast and skilled duo of Marta and Christiane. The last time Marta was on the field against the US, she seemed to have four to six legs at one time, all of them moving with lightning speed, with rubber bands locking her feet to the ball, making US defenders look so bad that practice cones took umbrage at the comparison. The US had displayed steadily improving possession soccer since the first match of the Olympics, with flashes of offensive goods, but I didn't think it would be enough.
Guess what? It was.
There were still too many hopeful passes, as Brandi Chastain delicately put it, particularly coming from central midfielders Lloyd and Boxx. Way too many times the ball was simply dumped upfield 20 yards beyond any running US players. There were too many non-pressured giveaways in the central third and too many howlers under pressure deep in the defensive end, most due to poor first touches. But... defensively, this is as good as a US team has looked in a very long time. The back line organization was superb, and except for the late Marta free kick that froze every player on the field, Brazilians included, the marking was really beyond reproach and the mids tracked back well.
Amy Rodriguez is going to be very, very good when she grows up and learns just one more second of patience, one more touch on the ball. Lori Chalupny ran her ass off for the entire 120 minutes and didn't lose a step, at least not out of proportion to the Brazilians she was defending against. Christie Rampone shut Marta down for the bulk of the game. She still had some magic moments of splitting two or three or ten US defenders, but she wasn't running free. Carli Lloyd makes me crazy, and not in a good way. I am very glad she scored the game-winner, but only the fact that it was the sole goal of the match outweighs her numerous giveaways, statue-like defensive plays, long balls to nowhere, and attempted dives. Nice goal, Carli. You still have some work to do.
Hope. Freaking. Solo. She was a monster. She was completely out of her head. She played the match of her life. Her instincts on when to come out, when to stay on her line, when to punch, when to dive to cut off the cross, were spot on. The point-blank stop against Marta in the 72nd minute was unreal. Aside from one shaky clearance that barely avoided being a here-you-go to the Brazilian forward, she was just... she was just damn. And after the match, being interviewed by Julie "I wouldn't want to play in front of her" Foudy, gave all the credit to the way the team played and the energy they created for themselves on the pitch.
The goal was the culmination of a beautiful sequence in which Lauren Cheney got the ball just to the left of center about 25 yards out, circled under pressure, lasered a short ball up to Lloyd on her left, who hit a one-touch slip pass back toward center to Rodriguez, who touched it back to the left to Lloyd, who deftly collected the ball, took one extra touch just to the outside of the Brazilian defender, and unleashed a left-footed shot to the far post that dipped just under the diving keeper. Brilliant. Quick, controlled touches, smart movement off the ball, quick thinking, perfect execution. Beautiful, beautiful football.
The Brazilian Diving Team didn't make much of a splash today, although Christiane sure tried. Early on, after jumping over an onrushing Solo, she hit the ground and stayed there. Chastain's commentary was perfect. And that's what we call... nothing. Absolutely nothing. That's I missed a scoring chance, so I'm just going to lie here for a while and get some rest for my team. Very bad sportsmanship. I was not sorry to see Christiane crying and flailing at the ground after the final whistle, nor was I sorry to see Daniela be subbed off after repeatedly howling for calls she didn't get. Daniela, honey: if a nudge to your shoulder blades really makes the back of your head hurt that much, maybe you shouldn't be playing soccer. As the game went on, Marta did her share of complaining as well, at one point apparently also bitching at God after some light contact that made her shot sail high and wide.
If Solo is the Woman of the Match, Hucles is the Woman of the Tournament. Who expected her to end up tied with Marta as one of the top goal scorers? Not me. And if she'd put away a few of the other open chances she created, she'd have the Golden Boot hands down. Very, very impressive for an older player who never got much time and whose continuing presence on the roster was always a mystery to me. She was an anchor for the US team. Good on yeh, Angela.
The future looks pretty good. Now they know Pia knows what she's talking about. They should believe in the system and in each other. When Wambach comes back, she should add another dimension to the multi-dimensional attack they discovered in Beijing. Now if we can just find some central midfielders that don't make me hold my breath between the occasional flashes of okayness, well, hell. Gold, baby!