The new best team you’ve never heard of

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A while ago, a Facebook friend added me to a group called “The Best Team You’ve Never Heard Of.” I assume the group’s been around for quite some time, because it’s a forum for the U.S. Women’s National Team. Even if they remain somewhat taken for granted, almost everybody has heard of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

There is, however, another women’s soccer team that’s taken that label, and because they’re a Europe-based club team, you’ve almost assuredly never heard of them. However, if you checked in with Twitter on Saturday and are courageous enough to follow myself and others who had one eye on London, another on Stade Gerland, you have been inundated with superlatives about Olympique Lyonnais Féminine.

Lyon’s women’s team, UEFA Champions League holders, took their already astonishing performance to a new level on Saturday. Coming into their first semifinal leg against Turbine Potsdam (2009-10 champions), Lyon had outscored their opposition 32-0. Surely their German rivals, who have met Lyon in two straight finals, would give them a test?

No. Not even close. Lyon ran out 5-1 winners in a match that showed us how far the club (and possibly women’s) game has come in the last two years. In the 2008-09 final, the sides went to a shootout scoreless after 120 minutes in Getafe, Turbine winning the title in the ninth round of kicks. Last year, Lyon won a comfortable 2-0 game after going up within half an hour, while yesterday OL were up five goals before Turbine added a late consolation.

Turbine still has a chance to render all this talk foolish with a comeback on Sunday in Potsdam, but watching Lyon yesterday, you couldn’t help but feel you were seeing a new level of play. It’s difficult to prove such things given how little coverage there is of women’s club soccer, but three years of watching Women’s Professional Soccer gave us nothing close to Lyon’s play. Even on a rain-soaked pitch with puddles thick enough to show on camera, there was a speed and precision to their game that was shocking. That they were that good against a side that could be argued as the second-best side in the world beckoned all the clichés we’d used while trying to quantify Barcelona’s dominance of Real Madrid. It was a claim to being the best women’s team ever.

The difference was that shocking, that drastic. One team was playing a game in the present. The other was showing us the future.

Highlights of that match was well as the other semifinal first leg (Arsenal and Frankfurt in London) are below, but one note for U.S. Women’s National Team fans: Lyon’s team forms the heart of the French national team, the same one that surprised some last summer in Germany. If OL is taking their game to a new level, you can bet France will be a major player (if not a favorite) this summer in London.

Highlights: Lyon-Turbine Potsdam

Highlights: Arsenal-Frankfurt