Staying golden: The U.S. prevail over Japan to clinch fourth Olympic gold medal

19 Comments

The U.S. finally gets one back against Japan with a resounding 2-1 victory. If this indeed the end of a cycle, what a way to go out.

Wembley Stadium played host to an Olympic gold medal match between well-balanced rivals that is jam-packed with talking points. Here are five such notes:

Love her or hate her, Hope Solo’s got real substance behind all that gruff talk. Sure, Solo can be something of a rabble-rouser, but tonight the attention is squarely on her job and how well she does it. As she’s been known to say, goalkeepers don’t win games, they save them. She did just that today. That 83rd minute leap to keep out Tatsuya Tanaka’s effort on goal? Wow. That save almost certainly prevented another penalty kick shoot-out and preserves her status as the world’s best.

Carli Lloyd has silenced the doubters. The U.S.’s number 10 has been known to polarize a segment of the USWNT’s support base, but even her most fervent faultfinders have to applaud her performance today. Lloyd had what was perhaps her best game in a national team shirt yet. Her brace (just the second in Olympic final history) capped off an unstoppable performance. Lloyd set the tempo with her opening goal just a few minutes into the proceedings when she powered in Alex Morgan’s pass from short range. It was a harbinger of positive things to come. Her second effort was textbook Lloyd: a surging solo run through the center of the park topped off with a cannon blast of a shot.

Lloyd lost her once-sacred starting spot heading into the tournament. It seems that was the catalyst for such the stark turnaround in form. She’s been a robust and productive force in midfield throughout her stint in the United Kingdom. As Pia Sundhage beamed in her post-match comments, “She proved that I was wrong and that I’m not that perfect.”

Another jaw-breaking stat? Carli Lloyd has now scored every one of the USWNT’s three goals in their previous two Olympic finals.

It’s entirely appropriate to flag up (and gripe about) the blown calls. Let’s leave the U.S./Canada furor to one side for a moment. The United States were the beneficiaries of a couple major non-calls. Tobin Heath committed a blatant handball in the first half that should have led to a penalty kick. Rachel Buehler’s egregious bear hug on a Japanese attacker in the box also went unpunished. Head official Bibiana Steinhaus is arguably the most preeminent referee in the women’s game. That both she and her assistant referees missed said incidents is a tad surprising. Let the debate rage on.

Simply put, Japan are class. And that extends way beyond their eye-pleasing soccer. It’s the Nadeshiko’s grace in defeat to the non-existent remonstrations over the non-calls to the modest bows upon being substituted off. Granted, it’s probably cultural as much as it is sporting, but it’s still a pleasant sight. Let’s just hope these players have done enough to get first dibs on first class seats on the flight home. They deserve nothing less, despite the result today.

The sequel was better than the original.Let me dish out an early caveat here and say one should avoid becoming a prisoner of the moment. Still, after bearing witness to two exhilarating women’s soccer matches in four days, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment.

Today’s match may not have featured the controversy or heart-stopping suspense that compel some to grant the U.S./Canada semifinal ‘greatest of all time’ status. And of course there was last year’s World Cup final with its steady supply of star-making performances and plot twists. But in terms of the sheer quality shown by both teams tonight, this match was special.

Possession see-sawed back and forth as both teams earnestly tried to outwit their opponents through varied means. Japan clung to their patented patient build-up play while the U.S. weren’t shy in imposing their physical advantage. Japan hardly lost their composure, even while facing a two-goal deficit. Passes weren’t hurried; reckless fouls weren’t committed; players refused to be gripped by panic. The U.S. also looked tighter and more polished than they did in the World Cup final one year ago. They were certainly more clinical, which is the ultimate difference maker.

Tremendous goalkeeping, some dandy goals (Japan’s included), and an enthused near-capacity crowd at Wembley added to the momentum of the occasion.

Make no mistake: these are the two best women’s soccer teams in the world. Today’s result just means we have a new (and familiar) number one.