As Carli Lloyd walked to the mark, following an exhausted Shannon Boxx's hospital-ball shot to the keeper's foot, I groaned and said she's gonna sky it over the bar. The ref blew the whistle, Lloyd sent the ball roughly two miles over the bar, and that was pretty much that. Tobin Heath's miss became just a footnote at that point.
Maybe the most interesting thing about the match was the Rashomon experience of hearing Ian Darke and Julie Foudy praise Boxx and Lloyd up and down while everyone in the room with me wondered aloud what game they were watching. Opinion is similarly divided on the Big Soccer boards, where half the commenters think the pair were an efficient engine that shut down the Japan attack and made the US attack go, and the other half saw them consistently lose the ball, make poor decisions, and waste possession after possession by sending shots into the cheap seats from 40 yards out. Would you care to guess which camp I'm in?
The only consolation I find--other than Japan playing a clean, crisp game dedicated to buoying the heart of their country, of course--is that the loss was a total team effort. The US failed to finish about a thousand good chances in front of the net, had an ineffective central midfield, and showed more than a few moments of ghastly defensive panic. The first Japsn goal came off a quick sequence of Rampone making a terrible decision on a pass, Buehler going to ground and sending a rocket directly across the goalmouth, which unfortunately went only two yards before slamming into Krieger, whose panicked clearance went directly to Miyama, who slammed the ball home, one, two, three. And on the coaching side of things, while the decision to start Cheney over Rodriguez was sound, the decision to bring on speedy and tricksy but undisciplined Heath at the end of a tight match that demanded possession and protection of a fragile one-goal lead was baffling and, ultimately, costly. Heath promptly turned the ball over by dribbling into three defenders, and shortly thereafter turned it over again, leading to the fatal Japan corner. Meanwhile, Lori Lindsey languished on the bench and Lloyd stayed in. Japan never quit, and they won, and the world rightly cheered for them.
Well, the other consolation is that the US barely squeaked into the tournament in the first place, and was never favored to win it once they were in, and somehow made it to the championship match anyway. They gave us the gift of the Brazil game, which will go down as one of the two finest team efforts in US history in any sport, right up there with the 1980 hockey team beating the Russians. And Abby Wambach and Hope Solo were perfect pictures of grace and sportsmanship in defeat. Wambach got a goal, Solo saved a penalty, the the team went down, and both said exactly the right things in the postgame interviews.
So close, so tantalizingly, agonizingly close.
The Olympics are coming. We have some work to do.