July 17, 2011. That's the day that the United States lost the World Cup final to Japan in a hotly contested match that ended in penalty kicks. By the time the two face each other for the gold medal game on Thursday, August 9, 2012, it will have been 388 days since that epic game. For American soccer heroes like Abby Wambach, Christie Rampone, Hope Solo, Lauren Cheney, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe, those have been 389 days of regret, anger, and a burning desire to avenge that defeat.
The Americans should have won that championship game. All the players knew it. Multiple scoring chances, shots gone wild, crazy deflections. The Americans outshot the Japanese 27-14. The score could have easily been a highly lopsided affair in favor of America, but the Japanese kept it close by luck and a skill that many casual soccer fans didn't know they had. Their tight, ball-control offense muted the speed and athleticism of a somewhat aging (at the time) American team. When the American finally managed a score late in the second half, victory looked imminent until a defensive mistake deep in their own zone allowed Japan the equalizer. Overtime followed, and once again the Americans scored to seemingly ensure victory. Yet again, agonizingly again, the Japanese found another goal for themselves late in overtime to force a tie and the game to be decided in penalty kicks. At that point, all the momentum had seemed to swing to the Japanese and so it was no surprise that they, confident and buoyed by their amazing multiple comebacks, easily outperformed the Americans in penalty shots to take the title.
For the United States players and fans, heartbreaking doesn't begin to describe the emotions that were felt that day and for days to come. For myelf, I still remember the crushing disappointment and bad mood that lasted for days. The Japanese were worthy champions, but still it felt that the Americans should have won.
In the year following the World Cup, these two teams have faced each other three additional times. The Americans have gone 1-1-1 against this same Japanese team. However, over this time the American team has evolved and changed into a more youthful, aggressive collection of players. Alex Morgan, just 23-years-old, who was relegated to coming off the bench only in spurts during the 2011 World Cup, is now an experienced starter and leading goal-scorer for the team in 2012 prior to the start of the Olympics. Her mere presence on the field has helped open things up for veteran forward Abby Wambach who has had a rejuvenation of sorts offensively. Megan Rapinoe, 27, another firecracker substitute during the World Cup, is also now starting and is frequently the key to starting aggressive offensive runs down the field. Tobin Heath, 24, an unheralded and relative unknown midfielder, is now getting more time as a starter and is showing a great deal of promise working alongside Rapinoe and Morgan.
The American women's team is both very similar and very different to the one that lost to Japan at the World Cup final. They still have many of the key veteran starters that have made them so good for so many years, but their younger stars are now coming into their own and providing very valuable contributions. This new speed and aggressiveness will be something that the Japanese didn't see in 2011. Let's see what happens when these two teams collide yet again for the gold. I know I will be on the edge of my seat the entire way.
Julie is a member of the Yahoo Contributor network and an avid supporters of the men's and women's national soccer teams. Although she is passionate about many sports, soccer is the one that evokes more emotions than any other.
- Sports & Recreation
- Megan Rapinoe
- Alex Morgan
- Abby Wambach
- United States