Sunday, July 10, 2011

Outrage and Ecstasy over the Women's World Cup

I just spent three and a half hours watching soccer.

Women's soccer.

On a weekend!

And it was entirely worth it. The United States just defeated Brazil in penalty kicks in the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup, and it prompted a similar reaction from me as when Dirk Nowitzki nailed game-winning shots during the Mavericks championship run earlier this summer. I left off my couch screaming in ecstasy.

And I don't care about soccer. At all.

The last time I watched soccer, a friend dragged me to some bar in Dallas at 7 a.m. to see some game that I didn't really care about. Prior to that, I watched the USA men's team compete in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup. The only MLS game I've ever seen start to finish was last year's championship between Dallas and Colorado. Frankly, unless it's international competition, it wasn't going to move the needle for me.

I might have to reconsider my stance. Or at least start watching international competition prior to elimination rounds.

Perhaps I felt compelled to watch in the hopes that an apparent injustice had to be righted. That I couldn't see my own country's national team be robbed the way I felt my Mavericks were unjustly cast aside during the 2006 NBA Finals. I have no other frame of reference for soccer, but I've watched enough sports to know how to feel and when to feel as if my team has been dealt an unfair hand.

The United States lost a player to a red card resulting not only in a penalty kick, but also having to play the rest of the man a man, *cough* excuse me, a woman down, 11-on-10. Still, leading 1-0, the US needed to save the penalty kick and hold on for a 1-0 win.

The penalty kick... SAVE BY HOPE SOLO! Yes! The United States is going to... Wait, what? What's happening now? A re-kick?! FOR WHAT?!?!?!

I was enraged, and unfortunately I don't have a large enough knowledge of soccer to make sense of why I should feel that way. Based on the reactions of American players and the announcers seemingly unable to find fault with how the United States played the PK, I grew even angrier when Brazil buried the second-chance penalty kick.

Now the USA and Brazil, tied 1-1, would play the rest of the match with the Americans down a player. The game went to extra time, stoppage time, hammer time ... whatever it's called, it still seems mysterious. Every other sport in the world seems to be able to accurately stop and start a clock when necessary, but soccer just keeps it running. Heck, just add on more when we're finished. If you think Major League Baseball should have replay because it's easy enough to determine Safe vs. Out, the fact that soccer doesn't feel the need to accurately use a stopwatch will result in an aneurism.

Still tied at 1-1, now to a pair of 15 minute halves. No sudden death. And Brazil friggen scores on what originally appeared to be offsides. Don't give me more reason to watch to smash my TV while the Cowboys and Mavericks are each locked out. If ever my household appliances should feel safe, it should be during an NFL and NBA lockout, right?

With Brazil holding a 2-1 lead, I couldn't help but think how the game should be over. Hope Solo saved that first penalty kick, and I still hadn't heard any logical reasoning from the announcers of why the PK has been retried. The US should have won, 1-0, in regulation. Why are they even playing these extra periods? And now with Brazil ahead, 2-1.

It was a sports injustice of the highest order.

My mind began creeping toward a dark place I didn't know existed prior to the 2006 NBA Finals. The United States was being absolutely screwed out of advancing to the World Cup semi finals. I wanted to lash out. It didn't seem fair at all. The announcers had resigned themselves to the fact that America's run in this World Cup would in fact end earlier than ever before. That the United States would lose twice in a World Cup for the first time ever. That Brazil was heading to the semis. But that's not the mentality we have here. I began screaming louder at my tv (my neighbors hate me, by the way), trying to will the USA to a goal that was certain never to come.

The first 15 minute period ended. Only 15 minutes until Brazil moved on and the United States went home. With four minutes left, one of Brazil's players went down with an injury. She was on the ground writhing in pain. Either she'd be shot or was about to give birth, but clearly this was no fake injury. Something serious must have happened. Medics brought a stretcher out to the field to move her off the pitch and allow play to continue. Then, as they were loading the Brazilian onto the stretcher, they showed a replay. The woman just laid down and FAKED the injury.

And just to make sure we knew she was full of shit, as soon as she was carried off the field on a stretcher, wasting four minutes of time, she sprung back as if re-spawning in a shoot-'em-up video game and ran back onto the field as if nothing had happened. That right there is why I couldn't stand Dwayne Wade clutching his eye at the end of Game 2 of the most recent finals, and it's why I've never liked soccer. If flopping is ruining the NBA, soccer is a lost cause.

Not only was the US going to lose, but Brazil was doing its best to cheat away the precious remaining seconds left on the clock. Had I been on the field, I might have been inclined to make sure that injury-faking cheater left the field on a stretcher, seeing as how she seemed like she wanted so badly to get out of playing just moments earlier. In baseball, pitchers retaliate with brushback pitches and plunking batters. If ever a player deserved to be taken out, it's the player who is already faking a catastrophic injury.

Referees tacked on three minutes of stoppage time, which seemed rather meager compared to how long the fake injury lasted. Oh, but they gave her a yellow card. Who gives a flying shit?! Unless that yellow card was going to add another minute or two back onto the clock, don't even bother.

Time ticked away. The first minute faded, the United States still trailing. And with just over a minute to go, a perfectly lobbed ball made its way toward the Brazilian net where Abby Wamback drove home the game-tying header with the latest goal ever scored in the World Cup, 122 minutes into the match.

After the Brazilians were gifted second life in this game with an extraneous penalty kick that proved fruitful, the game would be decided by penalty kicks, a strength favoring the Americans and goalkeeper Hope Solo. Poetic justice prevailed as the Americans were granted a second chance at their first penalty kick with Brazil's goalie leaving the goal line early. Boxx drove home the goal, and the penalty kick stage of the match was on!

Solo guessed wrong at the first two shots, but after the USA made its first three PKs, Solo lunged to her right and tipped a penalty kick wide of the net, making the only save America needed to advance on penalty kicks (5-3) past Brazil and into the semifinals.

Everything we pride ourselves on in the United States. Everything we strive to achieve. Working to be the best and carrying a never-say-die attitude into everything we undertake. It all paid off in this match. Soccer -- women's soccer! -- boosted National pride an extra notch on Sunday afternoon. Who would have ever thought that would happen? And who would have ever thought I'd spend three and a half hours of my weekend watching soccer?

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