US Ladies Flip The Script….And The Tragedy Is All Brazil’s

Maura Gladys on the USWNT’s monumental win.

Not to be undone....

A little bit of drama, a little bit of emotion, and one heck of a comeback by the USWNT.

Thinking about this game, I thought about an idea that Brian Phillips threw around a while ago on his excellent blog, Run of Play. It’s the idea that when something incredible occurs, we look back at it with a “climate of expectation” that’s drastically different from the one in which it occurred. Basically, we look back at it as if it couldn’t have occurred any other way.

And on rare occasions, every event and occurrence seems delicately, and deliberately placed, one after another, onto a perfect string of moments and emotions, creating something that is almost perfect.

What happened today in Dresden was perfect. Every touch, every run, every call, now in hindsight seems as if it was destined to end with Abby Wambach’s header, Hope Solo’s save, and Ali Krieger’s penalty, even though it didn’t seem that way at the time. Because of that afterglow, we’ll remember this game not as one of tactics, but of moments and movement and feeling. In the spirit of that, and giving a nod to the pure literary feel of it all, here’s USA-Brazil in three acts.

Act One: Exposition

There was monumental hype even before the opening whistle. With Germany eliminated just a day before, the game would be a showdown between the two favorites still left in the tournament, the winner emerging as the clear and heavy favorite going forward.

Brazil entered the game on a tear, easily disposing of Australia, Norway and Equatorial Guinea in Group D by a combined score of 7-0. The United States was coming off its first loss in the group stage in program history, a 2-1 loss to Sweden, and looked disorganized and unable to finish.

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage stuck with the same 11 she started against Sweden, despite calls to bench forward Amy Rodriguez, who had trouble finishing all tournament, and defensive midfielder Shannon Boxx, who has been relatively invisible.

Boxx-to-Boxx all day....

The move to leave Boxx on the field proved smart just 74 seconds into the game when she sent a cross into the box that deflected off Brazil’s Daiane for an own goal.

She followed that up by setting an aggressive, fiery tone for the first ten minutes of play, the best opening by the United States thus far.

But Brazil showed just how dangerous they could be, peppering the goal with crosses and shots, forcing Solo to be sharp. In the 23rd minute, Marta’s talent shined through when she raced towards the goal on a breakaway with Christie Rampone trailing just a step behind. Her shot went high, thanks to goalkeeper Hope Solo cutting down the angle and Rampone applying pressure. But it was a reminder of just how quickly Marta could make her presence felt.

Halftime came with the United States still up 1-0, but the Stars and Stripes looked disjointed in the latter part of the first half as Brazil gained momentum. At the start of the second half, the U.S. continued their choppy play.  As the game ping-ponged back and forth, there was no real hints about the controversy that was about to occur.

Act 2: Madness

In the 65th minute, with two feet flailing in the air, Marta’s 5-4 frame slammed to the turf in front of the U.S. goal, with Rachel Buehler’s body splayed beneath her. Marta had just niftily popped the ball up and over Buehler and Rampone and had an open look at Solo, but Buehler lunged with the striker, causing her to miss the ball and land violently. It’s a common tactic of Marta’s, to lure defenders in close, increasing the chances of a sloppy jab or errant elbow, thereby increasing the likelihood of a foul. In this case, the referee deemed that Buehler had denied Marta of a goal scoring opportunity, which was grounds for not only a penalty kick, but a red card. Was it truly a foul? Was it worthy of a red card? Does anyone other than Marta get that kind of call? Yes, no and no. But what followed was even more incriminating.

As Cristiane took the penalty kick for Brazil, Hope Solo took a hard step to her left and punched the ball away, sending the stadium into hysterics. But as Solo took a step, so too did Rampone, who was standing outside the 18 yard box. The step was good enough to earn Brazil a re-kick for encroachment and a yellow card for Solo for dissent (we think.). All of this wasn’t apparent at the time however, and the United States vehemently questioned the referee’s call. Solo wasn’t as brilliant the second go-round, and Marta coolly slotted the ball into the right corner. USA 1, Brazil 1.

But instead of letting their emotions get the better of them, the ten players on the field re-grouped and kept playing. Shannon Boxx dropped back to fill Buehler’s spot, but Sundhage waved her back up. They’d play with three backs. In order to cover for the space that was created in Buehler’s absence, Krieger, Rampone and LePeilbet hustled to close the gaps.  Sundhage also inserted Alex Morgan in an attempt to spark the team, and she did well to earn several corners, but neither team was able to score again by the end of regular time.

And the call is....?

As play went on, Marta morphed into the villain of the match. She was the one who had drawn the foul and netted the second penalty, and now she was voicing her displeasure with every call. Fans in Dresden booed and catcalled every time she took a touch. But it took her just 97 seconds into overtime to prove her status as the world’s best scorer with a deft volley off a Maurine cross that floated above Hope Solo into the open side of the net. Controversy marred this goal as well when replay showed that Maurine was offsides.

The United States was now facing the grim task of scoring against one of the best teams in the world, while playing with only ten players, which, in hindsight, is the most absolutely American situation you can find yourself in. And they responded in the most American way possible. They pushed and pushed and pushed. Wambach almost had the equalizer in the 98th minute, and Lloyd had a shot in the 120th minute that sailed high. Minutes turned into seconds as the game burned down to the dying embers. All that remained was the three minutes of stoppage time. Then it happened.

Act 3- At The Death

On the exact day 12 years earlier that the last U.S. women’s team captured the country’s spirit, in a moment that echoed Landon Donovan’s miracle goal against Algeria, Abby Wambach got lifted.  At the 1:21:19 mark, Wambach rose above her defender and goalkeeper Andreia’s outstretched arms, eyed up Megan Rapinoe’s absolutely perfect cross and drove the ball into the open net. It wasn’t a sloppy tap-in, a bumbled shot, or a messy finish. It was pure, precise and beautiful. It was the only way the United States could have scored, and it was enough to make you believe.

Rapinoe to Wambach...

The goal was a product of a beautiful ball by Megan Rapinoe, which was preceded by a smart swing out from Carli Lloyd and capped the greatest comeback in U.S. soccer. After 55-plus minutes of playing with only ten players, the United States had new life in penalty kicks.

Looking back, you knew they had it in the bag. With the mighty Hope Solo minding net, she was bound to stop one, which she did, stonewalling Daiane (the same Daiane that gave up Brazil’s own goal two and a half hours earlier). Boxx, Lloyd, Wambach, Rapinoe and finally Krieger each unflappably put their shot past Andreia to seal the victory and shock the Brazilians. Probably one of the most poignant moments the cameras caught was the red-carded Rachel Buehler sobbing into Pia Sundhage’s arms after the win, no doubt a release of relief.

But none of it could have happened without each moment that came before it. The own goal, the red card, the penalty kick, the other penalty kick, Marta’s overtime goal, Rapinoe’s cross, Wambach’s header, Solo’s save, Krieger’s kick. It all builds up to a classic story of American spirit and triumph.

But it’s not ever yet. In a very “Miracle on Ice” kind of way, the United States still has two more games to play before they can be crowned World Cup champions. They take on France on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.  and their chances of winning it all are exponentially better now that Germany is out of the tournament.  But there’ll be plenty of time for chalk talk and tactics tomorrow and Tuesday. For now, it’s nice to enjoy the fact that today, America got to witness something perfect.

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38 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rich on 2011/07/11 at 7:30 AM

    Amen!

    Reply

  2. Great piece.

    Reply

  3. Posted by davidmaveritas on 2011/07/11 at 7:39 AM

    We wouldn’t have had those 2 minutes if it weren’t for Erika’s time wasting.

    Reply

  4. Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/07/11 at 7:45 AM

    Great piece. Thanks for taking the time.

    Apart from Solo, Boxx was my WOM. Challenged everything in the CMF, won possession and distributed smartly AND THEN drove the attack. I couldn’t believe she was still running at the end. Fantastic glue performance.

    Reply

    • Posted by DTOM on 2011/07/11 at 2:36 PM

      Boxx also was caught with her hand in the air when she should have been marking Marta on her goal in extra time…

      Reply

  5. Soccer can be a cruel mistress, and when the Brazilian took the ball to the corner to kill off the game, I had just about resigned myself to a hard-fought, hard-done by result. Then we broke out into the counter-attack and that perfect cross, and that perfect header.

    The US is not innocent when it comes to the dark arts of international soccer, but we are a tad more innocent then most. Yesterday’s result felt like a triumph of good over evil. Not implying that Brazil are evil and the US are “good” but the fact that the shenanigannery and poor refereeing were overcome in the end reminded me of the emotions that this game is capable of stirring.

    Reply

  6. Excellent piece.

    I still don’t think it was a foul. Buehler and Marta were mirror images of one another – each with a hand on the others hip trying to get there first. It was a fair but physical challenge for a 50-50 ball. And even if its a foul, it’s on a 50-50 ball so there’s no goalscoring opportunity – a penalty might be awarded for a foul on a corner kick, but the defender doesn’t get sent off. They reached the ball at the same time but it was Marta’s throwing her body up in the air and tumbling acrobatically that sold it.

    But then of course the preordained narrative would have branched off in some other way. The USA played so much better with 10 women, they could have easily lost the match with 11. Instead, an hour later me and my son were going Algeria nuts as Wambach sent Rapinoe’s cross crashing into the goal.

    There was still business to take care of at this point and we should give the Lady Yanks full credit for finishing off the job with clinical coolness moments after forging their salvation.

    Of course, the most delicious irony of the entire match was the retaking of Shannon Boxx’s first penalty after Andreia came a couple yards off her line to save. Given the second chance, she buried it. The original injustice ensured final justice. And we came full circle.

    One of the most dramatic soccer matches I’ve ever seen.

    Reply

    • Posted by Martin on 2011/07/11 at 4:05 PM

      “LAW 12 – FOULS AND MISCONDUCT
      Fouls and misconduct are penalised as follows:

      Direct Free Kick

      A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following four offences:
      • tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball
      • holds an opponent

      A direct free kick is taken from where the offence occurred.

      Penalty Kick
      A penalty kick is awarded if any of the above ten offences is committed by a player inside his own penalty area, irrespective of the position
      of the ball, provided it is in play.”

      If you watch the replay you’ll notice that, as both players are going down, Buehler has a fistful of Marta’s shirt quite securely in hand. Marta was not going anywhere. That looks like a very clear hold to me.

      The foul and therefore the penalty was legitimate though I’ve seen lots of discretion with shirt pulling in the box and it would not have surprised if they had let it go.

      “Sending-Off Offences
      A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off and shown the red card if he commits any of the following seven offences:

      5. denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick”

      Since the ref gave a foul and Marta was denied “an obvious goalscoring” opportunity ( though I guess you would debate that ) , the ref had no choice but to red card Buehler.

      Reply

      • Posted by Johninho on 2011/07/12 at 6:31 AM

        You’re never going to convince me that any other ref, to any other player, would award that red and that kick. To me, it was the perfect storm of bad outcome.

        I’m exhausted. What a game. 2 hours of panic, followed by 15 minutes of euphoria.

        Reply

      • Posted by Antonio H. on 2011/07/12 at 10:54 AM

        You’re looking at the rule book as opposed to the situation. 99% of calls like that made by the ref are situational as opposed to by the book. Because in that case, there should’ve been 4 more or sobpenalries called in that match. The concept of “shoulder to shoulder” (or the perception of it) is huge in soccer and all that happened was the ref tried to het a little too involved in the match

        Reply

        • Posted by Martin on 2011/07/12 at 3:52 PM

          “You’re looking at the rule book as opposed to the situation. ”

          So I suppose the rules don’t matter?

          I’m not denying the fact that this particular situation fell into the catgory of “discretionary” calls.

          “The concept of “shoulder to shoulder””.

          Well, a great shoulder charge is a lost art. Buehler’s shoulder never touched Marta. The replay shows Marta beats Buehler, then Buehler takes her down most likely by pulling her shirt down, while she is going for goal.

          If you are a defender and you make clumsy contact with an attacker who has just blown by you in the penalty box and now has a better shot at the ball than you do and your contact very much appears to cause her to fall ( cause you pulled her down)well, I don’t see how you can expect much sympathy in that “situation”.

          If you are the ref maybe you don’t make the same call , maybe I do.

          That is why it is called discretionary.

          But don’t tell me the ref did not have the grounds to make the call she did. FIFA made a big show of cracking down on shirt pulling in the 2002 World Cup but I’m not sure where they are with that now.

          Now the penalty re-take? That was different.

          Reply

          • Posted by sfshwebb on 2011/07/12 at 4:25 PM

            Martin – By your argument of rules are rules, then one has to to re-take that penalty. Rapinoe (i think) was definitely in the box before the ball was struck. Does that happen in a lot of games and does not get called? Sure, but the rules call for that kick to be taken again. If for example, Cristinane had scored and it was a Brazilian player who had encroached, Brazil by law would have to take the kick again.

            Reply

            • Posted by Martin on 2011/07/12 at 6:22 PM

              Rules are rules, depending on how you interpret them. My interpretation is different from yours.

              You just don’t like my interpretation;that does not mean I’m wrong or you are wrong.

              That’s why there is discretion.

              Here’s a rule I’d like clarification on; was it legal that Marta took the re-take and not Cristinane?

            • Posted by sfshwebb on 2011/07/12 at 9:35 PM

              http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/afdeveloping/…/8.%20law%2014_559.pdf
              This rule about encroachment seems pretty clear.

              I believe that It was legal for Marta to re-take the kick, as long it was clearly identified as to who was going to take the kick.

  7. Excellent piece.

    I still don’t think it was a foul. Buehler and Marta were mirror images of one another – each with a hand on the others hip trying to get there first. It was a fair but physical challenge for a 50-50 ball. And even if it is a foul, it’s on a 50-50 ball so there’s no goalscoring opportunity – a penalty might be awarded for a foul on a corner kick, but the defender doesn’t get sent off. They reached the ball at the same time but it was Marta’s throwing her body up in the air and tumbling acrobatically that sold it.

    But then of course the preordained narrative would have branched off in some other way. The USA played so much better with 10 women, they could have easily lost the match with 11. Instead, an hour later my son and i were going Algeria nuts as Wambach sent Rapinoe’s cross crashing into the goal.

    There was still business to take care of at this point and we should give the Lady Yanks full credit for finishing off the job with clinical coolness moments after forging their salvation.

    Of course, the most delicious irony of the entire match was the retaking of Shannon Boxx’s first penalty after Andreia came a couple yards off her line to save. Given the second chance, she buried it. The original injustice ensured final justice. And we came full circle.

    One of the most dramatic soccer matches I’ve ever seen.

    Reply

    • Can we make “went Algeria nuts” an official US Soccer vocab term? I love that I instantly understood it (I thought I broke my thumb beating my hands against a nearby door in delirium when Abby scored but thankfully it’s just bruised).

      Reply

      • Posted by Tux on 2011/07/11 at 1:58 PM

        Or “did an Algeria.”

        I didn’t lose it this time, but that’s because I was tracking the game on Turner’s blog on SI, since I don’t get ESPN at my house. Little harder to go nuts when you can’t see what’s happening

        Reply

  8. Posted by Andy_4Lakes on 2011/07/11 at 8:18 AM

    Perfect write-up for a perfect game.

    Reply

  9. Posted by obxfly on 2011/07/11 at 8:49 AM

    anybody want to sell their tickets to Wednesday’s game?

    Reply

  10. Posted by SamT on 2011/07/11 at 8:54 AM

    Fantastic piece.

    There’s some very personal poetry for me here as well. I was 9 when the Miracle on Ice happened in 1980. And now my daughter — who is named Abby — is 9 to witness this most amazing victory of the US Women. Incredible match.

    Reply

  11. Posted by Kenny on 2011/07/11 at 9:06 AM

    already looking forward to Canada 2015!

    Reply

  12. Posted by kaya on 2011/07/11 at 10:49 AM

    Very nice, Maura. The 3 part drama was a great way to summarize the math. (The only thing I’d add is what Tuesday points out about the poetic justice of the Boxx PK retake.)
    I think the replay of the Buhler RC can be debated, but when I saw it real-time, I was sure it was a RC. I’m not sure it’s fair to berate the ref over that.
    An aside: I think all this vilification of Marta is a little unfair. It was a scrappy and heated game and there was a lot of fouling and, dare I say, some exaggeration from the American side, too (but of course, Erika took it to a whole other level.) The part where she (Marta) loses me is with how she gets upset with her teammates. But part of me digs that’s she’s such a beast and couldn’t care less if the entire stadium boos her.

    Reply

    • Posted by Martin on 2011/07/11 at 4:08 PM

      Those vilifying Marta’s whining have clearly never watched Landon Donovan in action.

      Reply

      • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/07/12 at 12:13 PM

        The whining is one thing. The Mexico-like ugliness to her and her squad’s game is really unnecessary and to their detriment.
        She gave out her share of nasty in quite a few tackles as well yesterday. And you cannot watch that replay of the penalty call without accepting the fact that she flipped herself into the air and fouled herself while battling 50/50 with Buehler. Complaining to the ref is one thing, standing over and shouting into your opponents face crosses the line of sportsmanship.
        Great player, incredible talent, classless demonstration on the day. The crowd got it right.

        Reply

  13. Posted by Gary F. Peltier on 2011/07/11 at 11:28 AM

    The real Miracle was that the game actually occurred. As a 65 year old former youth soccer coach, I watched the game reflecting on hte fact that 30 years ago women would not have been on the pitch. If nothing else, my generation has done something well and government regulations ( Title IX ) can be a good thing! As for the game, a collection of highly skilled athletes could not overcome a team of highly conditioned and skilled soccer players who genuinely like each other, respect each other and put the team ahead of their individual egos. Historically, heroic acts and heroes themselves are best described by poets not scribes. The gams and the lovely description above deserve each other. Well Done!

    Reply

    • Posted by Jim S on 2011/07/11 at 12:05 PM

      I have to agree with most of your comment, but personally title ix hasn’t affected our women’s team, at least in a positive manner(i’m in favor of title ix by all means, but just can’t give it credit in this instance). All Title IX has done is created a female-only competition structure that has permitted the rest of the worlds women’s team time to catch up to us. The reason our women’s team has been so strong over the years is that the women played with the men as they grew up. They could play the physical game better than anyone else, but knew they also had to play a strong mental game to compete with the men. This has produced a team whihc plays and wins as a team, something I’m sure the majority of us agree the USMNT could learn a thing or two about. So let’s give credit to the women for truly what they accomplished: learning to play the game the way it was meant to be played, executing it and winning because of it. Best of luck ladies!

      Reply

  14. Posted by Paula on 2011/07/11 at 12:08 PM

    USWNT are hardly underdogs, and all the teams in this tourney have been fantastic to watch, but …

    -“Algeria Nuts” is correct. I cried a little when Wambach’s header found the net.

    -What is it with these teams playing their most stirring soccer under the most trying circumstances (though maybe in this match, not all of their own making)?

    -Marta is a competitor. I don’t think she should be a villain, and while she probably didn’t care much about being booed during the match, I’m never pleased when audiences single people out (yes, even Luis Suarez).

    -I hardly knew what soccer was in 1999, so the Cup win appealed to me in the most general sense — “girl power” and all that. This is on another level entirely and I’m glad that US women’s soccer now has another World Cup moment to remember, regardless of whether they go on to win the whole tournament.

    -I hope this translates into success for the WPS, cuz damn I’m getting tired of watching the same 6 teams.

    Reply

  15. I’m sorry Jim. I can’t agree with you at all.

    The reason our women were on the pitch AT ALL is because of Title IX. That statute *enforces* that public educational institutions create equal opportunities for women. The private sector is not known for its compassion, and would never have spontaneously created equal sporting opportunities for these athletes.

    These ladies are a direct result of Title IX as they are the best athletes from a greatly expanded talent pool that would not be so vast without the opportunities granted by Title IX. We look at the success of our women’s national teams (Hockey, Soccer, Basketball, Volleyball, Softball, Water Polo all ranked in the top 5 globally, MOST either 1st or 2nd) and take this for granted, when the REASON we have such success is that Title IX has taught us to value the female athlete when she plays ON A TEAM. Tennis, Track & Field, Gymnastics don’t have the same success anymore BECAUSE girls want to play with a team, with their friends.

    Because of Title IX.

    Reply

  16. Posted by hercules3076 on 2011/07/11 at 1:34 PM

    Just as a quick note on a great piece and a great game, I heard that apparently FIFA said after the game that the Penalty retake was for Solo coming off her line (which she didn’t, but this is fifa, so who knows)

    Reply

  17. Great writing and great analysis of an awesome game. I loved the way you structured the piece to reflect the “climate of expectation” meme, and you captured the intensity of the contest. Exactly what we’ve come to love about this site… no pressure, though!

    Reply

  18. Posted by bmill2 on 2011/07/11 at 2:59 PM

    Great piece. What was just as stirring to me was the number and diversity of people I knew who were watching the game unfold with baited breath just as I was. My facebook and twitter was filled with friends and coworkers who I supposed had no clue what a soccer ball looked like, not to mention watching the game. Seeing so many people excited about the WNT win was just as satisfying as Wambach’s header and Solo’s final PK save

    Reply

  19. […] Possibly the best article I’ve read so far about the game against Brazil… The US Ladies Flip the Script… and the Tragedy is All Brazil’s […]

    Reply

  20. Posted by Steve Trittschuh on 2011/07/11 at 5:37 PM

    Alex Morgan looked good.

    HAHAHAHAHA

    Reply

  21. Maura,
    Love how you framed this viewpoint; this match will definitely go down as a “classic”.

    During the thick of the action in the second half and before the infamous red card, I was seeing things from the alternate viewpoint. I was wondering what the hypothetical match would have looked like if Rapinoe had come on for Rodriguez instead of Lauren Cheney in the 55th min. It is not like Cheney wasn’t given free range for most of the match anyways. Why not let her stay central, then you can always bring in Morgan either for Cheney or Lloyd later.

    Here’s to hoping no more classics the rest of the way for the US. Would love to dominate France both tactically as well as passionately. No more relying on aerial bombs to save the day.

    Hindsight is bliss as you point out. Love watching the fight of the USWNT. Here’s to 2 more hard fought matches.

    Reply

  22. Posted by Seybold on 2011/07/11 at 10:38 PM

    Glad you gave a shout out to Carli Lloyd–her composure and control on the ball was outstanding in the lead up to the goal, calmly moving from right to left, avoiding the defenders, creating space for the pass. Extraordinarily well done with only a minute to go, when most players would just boot it. As calm, cool and collected as you could ever want, in most nerve-wracking circumstances you could ever want.

    Reply

    • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/07/12 at 12:06 PM

      Agreed on her being huge on that play but interesting from the standpoint that she’s not been doing that for most of the tournament to the team’s detriment. I love her attacking game but if that play was earlier in the game she would have beat the first and/or second defenders and then launched it across field hopefully. Here’s hoping she takes the cue from that play and carries it forward.

      Reply

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