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

japan-soccer-saki-kumagai.jpg
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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6 comments
12000
12000

The US lost simply because Rodriguez did not play, that is the bottom line.

Midnight Cowboy
Midnight Cowboy

The U.S. coach (a female) was outcoached by the Japanese male coach.  I mean, did the U.S. coach do anything at all but just stand there?  Anyone who knows anything about Japanese or Japanese culture knows that they research things to death and as you could see when their goalie predicted - and blocked - the first U.S. penalty kick.  That was a shock to the U.S.squad.  Thus, a more risk-taking male U.S. coach would have selected five new penalty kickers who had fresh legs; that would have shocked the Japanese and then they would have been lost.  Also, why did the U.S. coach not substitute more freely?  I mean, anyone that can make the U.S. World Cup Soccer Team can play; I do not see there being that much separating those players as far as skill.  After playing 120 of soccer, no wonder their legs, hips, and focus was weakened and they missed all those penalty kicks.  Some of those kicks were not even close!  If I were a decision maker in U.S. women's soccer, that would be the last time Ms. Pia coached a national team. 

Captain Bill
Captain Bill

Japan deserved to win because they played more with more focus. What else explains 9 missed opportunities, with several on a platter? No, force of talent was not with the US team in the final. Focus overcomes talent any day. Japan's win is a a fair if miraculous outcome. Their rise to the top more of a surprise than anyone would have predicted.  How many sports pundits hardly even mentioned them until Japan won in the quarter or semifinals?  I agree with the other poster.  Japan was a standout.

A US Team fan

Epac
Epac

"Coming up next, Women's Professional..." CLICK!!!!

Gepap
Gepap

Sorry, but the "incredible run" was Japan's, not the US. They are the standouts in this tournament. On the Brazil game, the US comeback was incredible (so was the Japanese comeback vs. the US) but the fact is that the US has a lopsided history against Brazil, winning the vast majority of their games. How is a team with a 23-2 (or so) history against another team winning somehow inspirational?

The US was one of the powerhouse teams in this tournament. To try to paint them as some underdog is utterly and beyond absurd. They underperformed, period.

David_2003
David_2003

I was shoched when I read the USA coach let's another coach decide who will take penalty kicks!!!!  that is terrible, I hope we find a coach that makes the tough decisions and not play the guitar to the players like I read 

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