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The members of the U.S. women's soccer team blew an opportunity on Sunday. Some will focus on the fact that they could have struck a blow for soccer in general and others will note the marketing possibilities that were lost.
But the main thing was, the American players could have been true international champions (as opposed to, say, the winners of the "World Series") and they came up short.
Plenty of words will be written about what Sunday's Women's World Cup final "really meant." Analysts will break down the larger implications of the event. Folks on ESPN even jumped the gun during the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the tournament, promoting the idea that the U.S. team's 1999 championship had represented Title IX coming to fruition in the U.S. and that 2011 was Title IX having an impact on world women's sport.
Whatever it was on a larger scale - and nine times out of ten big "sports in society" declarations turn out to be vapid generalizations with little to no value - this was a great tournament capped off by a great game . . . a great game in which the U.S. choked oh so much at the very end.
I'm going with a 100 percent home-team perspective here - if that isn't clear already. The Japanese team's victory was delightful in a year in which its country has suffered so much. Then again, analyst Julie Foudy's yammering about how the team and its championship were going to "heal the nation" was ludicrously overwrought.
Anyway, I write about the home teams around here. Usually it is Chicago teams but every once in a while I venture out to a national team - especially when the Chicago teams suck.
And the home team didn't get the job done on Sunday, especially in the end. There were breakdowns during the game and during overtime - the missing of so many quality chances on offense and a couple blown leads on D. But the nearly unforgivable stuff happened after overtime.
First of all, coach Pia Sundhage, how could you have been so foolish as to have Shannon Boxx kick the first penalty kick again?
Boxx was the lucky recipient of an even-up call in the quarterfinal penalty kick victory over Brazil. A referee feeling guilty about having essentially given Brazil a goal earlier in the game when she ordered a penalty kick do-over after a minor infraction that goes uncalled 99 percent of the time, ruled that the Brazil goalkeeper came off her line too early on Boxx's first attempt, which was stuffed.
The goalie may have come off her line early, but goalies do that all the time and it is virtually never called. Boxx took her massive break and managed to put her second effort into the back of the net.
But the weakness she showed on her first attempt against Brazil, which resulted in a relatively easy save for the keeper, reared its ugly head again against Japan. Her almost down-the-middle effort was kicked away.
Second, Carli Lloyd played better that she had all tournament in the final but she still was a poor choice to take the second kick. Her finishing capabilities are usually one of her strongest suits but she hadn't been finishing in this World Cup. And when she busted out a snippy response to some mild criticism from Foudy earlier in the tournament, she showed mental weakness.
Sure enough, Lloyd launched the worst kick of the shootout by far, committing the cardinal sin of leaning back as she struck the ball and sending it well over the crossbar. Yikes.
It should have been clear after the first kick that the U.S. needed to bring in its biggest gun to restore order immediately. Strikers extraordinaire Abby Wambach or Alex Morgan obviously should have been up second. Sure enough, Wambach was the only American shooter not to choke, calmly slotting her shot into the net in the fourth round.
But by then it was way, way too late. Hope Solo had come up with a clutch save in the second round and just missed in the fourth but it didn't matter what she did when yet another goofy choice by Sundhage, late-game sub Tobin Heath, stepped up to take the third penalty kick, didn't hit it with any authority and watched as it was turned away. The Japanese won the shootout 3-1.
It wasn't just a blown opportunity on Sunday, it was at least a score of blown opportunities. And down went the U.S.
Deadspin: Watch The Gut-Churning End
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