XI from ’12: [No. 1] USWNT wins Olympic gold medal

The Equalizer Staff December 31, 2012 10

Carli Lloyd celebrates one of her goals during the Olympic gold medal match. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

The United States women’s national soccer team is something of a walking cliché. It’s a never-say-die team, filled with that intangible American spirit that means the team can never be counted out of any game, no matter the deficit. And in 2012, there was the added angle of redemption following a bitter loss in the final of the 2011 World Cup.

Sounds kind of cheesy, doesn’t it?

It would get old, but the world’s No. 1 team keeps finding ways to twist the plot, despite everyone knowing what is coming.

The word “redemption” was being tossed around the U.S. media and the team itself with obnoxious frequency. Yet when the redemption finally came — in the tune of a 2-1 Olympic gold medal match with over Japan, which had beaten the Americans in the World Cup final a year earlier — the story had the genuineness of being written on the spot.

The epic 4-3 semifinal win over Canada will go down as one of the best games ever, but the wind would have really been taken out of the sails had the U.S. gone on to lose the final three days later (like the World Cup, which they lost after an epic quarterfinal win over Brazil).

The result was as important for what it wasn’t as what it was. More than any other soccer team in this country, the U.S. women’s popularity is tied to the place they hold in mainstream culture, and that mainstream culture was disproportionately incredulous when the inspirational 2011 team lost a heartbreaker to Japan in the World Cup final. To replicate that result in London would have tested the patience of an audience as skeptical of their heroines as they are their soccer.

And that’s the key thing to know about the U.S. women’s 2012 season. London wasn’t just about a gold medal. It solidified their place as the country’s most important soccer team — the highest profile women’s team in the world, one of the few sets of female athletes that have the profiles to be icons.

Carli Lloyd’s early header ensured the U.S. wouldn’t need their typical theatrics. Her second half screamer brought on the surreal. Japan applied considerable pressure, hitting the bar, forcing incredible saves out of Hope Solo and ultimately getting one goal back, through Yuki Ogimi’s 63rd minute strike.

But the destined team of 2011 wasn’t enough for the destined team of 2012. The U.S. was not only going to win their third-straight gold medal, they were going to control the match. That’s not how this team’s big matches are supposed to play out.

Maybe there was too much at stake to risk the drama. Had the U.S. lost to Japan, the transient fans who’ve defined the team’s popularity would have left them. Instead, they’ll be there at the 2015 Canada World Cup.

Over the final few days of 2012, the staff at The Equalizer will countdown our 11 most memorable moments of 2012. Some were spectacular and some were disappointing, but one thing is common amongst all of them: they will be remembered for years to come.

No. 11: U.S. U-20 women win World Cup
No. 10: North Carolina wins its 21st NCAA title
No. 9: Lyon wins second-straight Champions League title
No. 8: Rapinoe comes out

No. 7: Pia Sundhage’s USWNT era ends

No. 6: WPS folds; W-League and WPSL Elite try to fill the gap

No. 5: The National Women’s Soccer League is born

No. 4: Abby Wambach’s incredible year

No. 3: Alex Morgan’s breakout year

No. 2: The epic USA-Canada semifinal

  • Kernel Thai

    I thought the US had the better in the world cup and Japan the better of the play in the Olympics but I guess it’s only the result that matters

    I do take exception to 2011 Brazil game commonly being referred to as epic. It certainly had an epic conclusion, but it was a lousy game. The high powered US offense managed only one goal and it took them 122 minutes to do it. Brazil managed two even tho their opponent were a player down for over an hour. The first on a dubious red card and the two PK that followed. The second on a missed off sides. Add in the ludicrous Brazilian time wasting at the end and there was little epic about it, or at least for the first 121 minutes.

    • Steglitz49

      The quality of the refereeing, Kernel. Had the Olympic final been refereed to the same standard as the World Cup, Japan would have won. Make of that what you will.

      • Kernel Thai

        Again, it was Bibianna Steinhaus in both games.

        • Steglitz49

          Precisely my point.

          (It is exceedingly rare to get to referee more than one top final in a career. This lady got two back to back. Jenny Palmqvist, generally regarded as the top lady referee — the Colina or, more appropriately perhaps, the Frisk of the ladies’ game — did the 2004 Olympic final and the 2012 CL final.)

  • Steglitz49

    The Olympic gold is only significant because it allowed the NWSL to be formed.

    Otherwise top spot 2012 goes to the Wonder of Tokyo, when USA’s U-20 defeated Germany’s by 1-0, the only goal that Germany conceded in the whole tournament, USA having been trashed 3-0 by Germany in their group game.

    Ever since Saki Kumagai slammed in the final penalty, FIFA has bent over backwards to give USA the needful to create a professional league. FIFA understands that the world-wide women’s game would be much the poorer if there was no ladies’ pro-soccer in USA.

    The final is otherwise memorable for at the prize ceremony the crowd booing Blatter (in the usual British tradition of no respect for authority) and for the Japanese clowning around on the podium. One assumes this was owed to the Nadeshiko feeling that had the final been refereed to the same standard as the World Cup final, Japan would have won. Sasaki’s appology was amusing in that it sounded as if he was running a house of ill repute rather than a soccer team.

    The USA came into the tournament massive favourites. France were second favorites. Japan had had a poor run that year and Sweden were known to have injury-poblems. Anything but a USA victory would have been a mega-upset and curtains for a NWSL because as you put it “the transient fans who’ve defined the team’s popularity would have left them”. The sporting world understands that and the need of a north-American league.

    We now have a NWSL. Thus, the Olympic tournament has done its work; the tournament may leave. It is already all but forgotten except for setting a new standard in refereeing. RIP.

    • http://twitter.com/JeffKassouf Jeff Kassouf

      To be this dismissive of one of the best Olympic tournaments we’ve seen is absurd. Men’s and women’s soccer in London were a huge success and both tournaments were incredibly entertaining. FIFA didn’t bend over backwards for anybody. NWSL is hardly on FIFA’s radar. It wasn’t even on U.S. Soccer’s radar until about eight months ago. These Olympics will be remembered for a long time, refereeing and all. This was another huge moment for women’s soccer, particularly in the United States, where anything other than the gold medal would have diminished the mainstream buzz.

      • Steglitz49

        We do not disagree that it was vital that the Olympic gold went to USA.

        As you put it “particularly in the United States anything other than the gold medal would have diminished the mainstream buzz”. In the country where coming second is called losing, a silver medal would not have cut the mustard for the nascent NWSL. FIFA clearly understood that.

        The quality of the men’s tournament is irrelevant to the ladies’ tournament.

        It is easy to overlook how central USA women’s soccer has been to the health, growth and development of ladies’ football the world over. Without the USA this would not have happened, whatever the supporters of Lyon may believe.

        “Always look on the bright side of life”, sang Eric Idle at the Olympic closing ceremony. Let’s trust that the world now gets a solid, strong and vibrant pro-soccer league in north-America and that NWSL team(s) will be invited to that team world cup that was played about 6 weeks ago in Japan, where Lyon beat Kobe 1-0.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kevinwparker Kevin W. Parker

      “It is already all but forgotten”? People who don’t know the first thing about soccer know the US women won the gold medal. Your alternative of an obscure win in a youth tournament that only the diehards care about is what’s been forgotten – heck, it took your mention to remind me, and I’m one of the die-hards.

      As for massive favorites, Germany was an even bigger favorite in the WWC, and look what that got them.

      As for the refereeing, I suppose you’d like it be up to the standard of US-Brazil in 2011 – I can just as fairly make the argument that if that match hadn’t gone 120 minutes and then to PKs solely due to poor refereeing that the US would not have been edged out in the final.

      • Steglitz49

        We do not disagree that USA getting the gold was vital for women’s soccer and in that sense the Olympic tournament was a critical event.

        One can turn the issue around and look at it from different angles.

        That the American public has forgotten the Wonder of Tokyo within <4 months illustrates the uphill media-battle that women’s soccer faces in USA. Did US Soccer fail to capitalize on the PR-angle or is the resistance to women’s soccer intrinsic?

        It is vital for the women’s pro-league in USA to take place in media. Compare how France handled the victory of the U-17 WC for girls and Sweden their Euro U-19 win. At the same time one has to be honest and acknowledge that it is very difficult for ladies’ football in old Europe also.

        This raises the question of whether lack of media exposure is willful block or simply neglect (sin of commission rather than omission).

        The uphill struggle for women’s soccer is also illustrated by the semi-final between USA-Canada drawing 26,600 to Old Trafford, the home of Man Utd, which can seat 79,500, while the SF between Japan-France attracted 61,500 at Wembley. At least it was more than the 18,000 who watched the USA-France in Glasgow seen as a rehearsal for the final, though less than 29,500 for USA-North-Korea at Old Trafford (but then the Brits have had a soft spot for N-K in soccer since 1966).

        Brazil’s group matches in Cardiff (where rugby is the top sport) against Cameroon and New Zealand drew over 30,000 each, which probably reflect the brand name of Brazil because at Wembley, the Brazil-Gbr group match pulled 70,500. Another bright spot was that the Japan-Sweden match was played at 12 noon at the request of Japanese TV.

        These figures are excellent in a foggy island where the attendance at the ladies’ FA Cup final has collapsed recently and where Arsenal Ladies are glad if 500 turn up to watch them.

        Of course you have to be a football nerd to know who scored the winning goal in the Wonder of Bern and other football minutiae. Maybe you can name the winning captain and what was significant about him?

        In short, your point, that my regarding the footballing achievement of the USA U-20 ladies so high when the world-wide health of all ladies’ football required an American Olympic, borders on the absurd may well on reflection have more than a grain of truth in it. Let’s take heart: the Wonder of Tokyo bodes well for 2015!

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