U.S. v. Japan: A Final Kick in the Pants, But a Fantastic Run

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Saki Kumagai focuses before her winning penalty kick.
​To me, the U.S. women's soccer team's bid for the World Cup was more inspiring than the 1980 men's Olympic hockey team's victory (you know, the "Miracle on Ice"). I think that what they were doing — giving us all something to cheer about during the ugliest partisan division in recent American history — was vitally important.

Congratulations on a fantastic run. The comeback against Brazil will never be forgotten, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that my disappointment at their 3-2 penalty kick loss wasn't assuaged in large part by the knowledge that no country every needed a sports victory as much as Japan needed yesterday's win.

That said, it's got to be noted that, in retrospect, our ladies simply did not play up to their own high standards — and that it wasn't a case of their inability to perform under pressure from the Japanese women, who, for much of the game, put on little or even no pressure.

Start with the obvious: the U.S. twice had the lead and twice surrendered it to an inferior offensive team. Then recall that the U.S. had a chance to go up 1-0 in the first minute, 3-0 in the first four minutes, and, finally, missed nine good chances to score in the first half. A third of those missed opportunities would have put the game away; in fact, one or two would have put the game away. And what hurts all the more when you watch them on replay is that during that same stretch, the Japanese women managed just two shot on goal, neither of them seriously close.

According to my unofficial stop watch, the U.S. had the ball on Japan's side of the field for nearly 70 percent of the time.

What else? Well, there is the fact that even when the Japanese team was hit with the first red penalty card in World Cup history, the U.S. women couldn't cash in and missed the free kick.

There just any other way to say this: In the second half we were simply out-maneuvered and out-hustled by a smaller, less talented, more focused team. This showed up most glaringly in the penalty kicks.

Watch these highlights.

The Americans were outplayed on both sides of the ball. Goalie Hope Solo — I've been thinking for the last three weeks there's a metaphor in that name, but I was never able to find it — seemed lost. And I haven't heard anyone ask why Amy Rodriguez never made it into the game. True, she was in coach Pia Sundhage's dog house for failing to have scored a goal in her previous five matches, but the same could be said for four other players who did play, and Ms. A-Rod, as I was set to call her, had a definite touch against Japan, scoring three goals in two earlier victories over Japan. But she spent the whole game on the sidelines.

Ah, well, we get Alex Morgan, probably our best player in the game, back in four years when she should be at her peak. That should be enough time to replay and overcome the bittersweet highlights of the 2011 World Cup season.


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