Sunday, July 17, 2011

Aiming is Crucial

It was 0-0 at the half. By our count, the US had taken at least 12 shots on goal, a dozen or more opportunities to score over the shorter Japanese team.  Yet the score was 0-0.

There were set pieces unconverted and headers hitting the poles.  I hear Little Cuter's Hungarian coach shouting banana as he cued them to line up in front of the corner kicks, just as the US team was doing on the small screen before me. She shoots, they move, and the score is still 0-0.

This just should not be. Scoring opportunities are rare in soccer; to have had so many and completed so few boggles the minds of spectators and commentators alike.

Perhaps it was due to the ice on Lauren Cheney's ankle as she hobbled out for the start of the second half. When one of your strikers is playing on a bum wheel you might be less likely to score. Perhaps there's no need to worry. Alex Morgan ran onto the field with her fresh young legs beneath her but even then the ball refused to go into the net.

Soccer is a physical game as Little Cuter used to tell her opponents as she ran, sharp elbows akimbo, dribbling the ball down the field. The US is not shy about fighting for every ball, and we were watching a fair amount of pushing and shoving when we began sitting closer and yelling louder as the US took another shot .... and missed.

That's one of the fun things about soccer. Your mind can wander as you watch the players fly over the field and then all of a sudden you are riveted to the screen. It's a beautiful game. The ball is big enough to see - unlike golf - while it's in play. The announcers add to the fun, "wondering what is afoot here" as the balls react like wood to flubber, recoiling from the goal without the help of a keeper.

Following a series of corner kicks from both sides, all of which went astray, the obdurate Japanese defense (I do love the announcer) was weakened when their coach replaced two of them with the team's top strikers. The US raced down the field with a big kick which was picked up by 22 year old Alex Morgan and G-O-A-L !!.

Unfortunately for the US, there was still time to play in the game. Playing keep-away in front of our own goal proved to be a less than stellar strategy as Japan put one past Hope Solo and tied the score with 11 or so minutes to go. Corner kicks were denied, the Japanese increased their shots on goal and it was a good thing that they couldn't aim any better than could the US. Both teams made runs at the goal and each time the ball ignored the net.

President Obama and his girls sent the team a real-time picture of them watching the game. It's funny that I don't miss Little Cuter more right now, but maybe that's because we have no history of watching televised soccer together. She was always on the field; I watched her. Seeing Abby Wambach head an assist into the goal took me right back to the McKegney Green, looking at the mother of the girl who'd just scored off a similar header for our traveling team, both of us shaking our head and ruefully smiling as we agreed that there go some more brain cells. Those balls are hard.

Unable to hold on to their lead in the OT, the US gave up the tying goal and the match went into the Penalty Kick phase. This name has disturbed me since I first encountered it. It has nothing to do with penalties. It describes a location rather than an event - the shots on goal are fired from the PK lines. It needs new nomenclature. It also needed a better performance by the US women, because they were outscored and out blocked and the Japanese went on to become the world champions after 3 Americans missed their penalty kicks.

Was this match uncharacteristic as the announcer had it? Or was the outcome in the hands of the gods? I'm going for the latter explanation. I'm seeing Hera and Zeus and Apollo and Aphrodite playing with the outcomes of those balls which should have gone in but didn't. The US was Hope-less (blame TBG for that one, please) and the Japanese were ecstatic and though I felt sorry for the American players, I really wasn't all that upset.

The Japanese were rubbing faces and hugging shoulders and laughing and grinning and I was glad for them and for their country. I know all too well how much something like this helps. I know how the big gestures and the unexpected happiness can turn an awful day of dealing with tragedy into a time where the bad stuff just doesn't seem so awful. After the tsunami and the nuclear disaster, after such loss and such trauma, it seems like the gods grew tired of testing Japan and sent some joy their way.

That's got to be a good thing, and I'm happy.


  1. I agree that I would have preferred that the US had won. Having said that, I'm glad that the people of Japan have something to help them feel a little bit better.

  2. I missed the match (we were having an Open House at our vacation home in Munds Park, it's for sale - sob!) so really appreciate the play-by-play! My favorite soccer comment came from my 4 year old granddaughter last Spring:
    "But Gramma, they just keep KICKING IT IN!" As she stood there waving at her Grandpa and me...

  3. I'm one of those Americans who is ignorant to soccer and not proud of it, but lacking a compelling reason to get interested.

    When we lived in Arizona and my Paula was four, she wanted to join a soccer team with her big boy heroes next door. We complied, got the gear, took her to the practices, etc. Through the third game, Paula was still standing on one spot on the field, coaching with real expertise at the top of her lungs.

    I remembered thinking that she'd probably take after her mother and be really, really good at dance. And so she was.

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