Monday’s Olympic semifinal 4-3 victory over Canada was by far the best game we’ve seen on either side of the gender spectrum in the 2012 Summer Games, and most likely the most thrilling and awe inspiring U.S. vs Canada tie in history.
Canadian striker Christine Sinclair put on the performance of a lifetime with a hat trick that included two headers at Old Trafford in Manchester. The Canadians appeared to finally have cracked the U.S. armor that had seen the Americans dominate them throughout the history of the rivalry, but in the end, the U.S. had too much poise and desire for redemption to lose this game.
Through two Megan Rapinoe master strokes, the U.S. tied the game twice, only to see Sinclair take the game back into Canadian hands. Abby Wambach would respond for the third U.S. goal on a penalty kick which would effectively send the game into extra time. When Wambach scores, the team is 93-2-5 all time.
Canada was able to expose cracks within the United States setup throughout much of the game and showed just how one dimensional the U.S. can be. The success of this women’s team rests with its wingers, Rapinoe and Tobin Heath.
When those two are providing service to Wambach, stretching out the defense for Alex Morgan and cutting in off the flanks to take shots, the U.S. attack is potent and formidable. Without them, the team doesn’t threaten goal much as they can’t rely on the passing skills of the forwards to create openings for each other consistently or for the midfielders to make runs off of as they hold up the ball.
While Canada was successful with physical play, Japan will use the type of organization and grit that won them the Women’s World Cup last year over the U.S. If the U.S. is going to have success against the Japanese, complete focus and ability to resist the types of lapses in concentration that have nearly cost them in this tournament will prove crucial.
The U.S. back line has not proven to be the strongest in this tournament when playing some of the better teams such as France and Canada who have managed multiple goals. The presence of a strong forward and active midfield in opposing colors is all it takes for this U.S. team to struggle, two things Japan posseses and often uses in 4-2-4 formation. Whether or not their formation will be different for the match against the experienced American side, we'll see, but the activity of the Japanese attackers will surely test the U.S. back line.
When the Americans met Japan last year, missed chances proved disastrous. Looking back at that game, Wambach, Morgan and the rest of the U.S. attack will remember their 12-1 advantage in shots taken over the first 30 minutes. Wambach and Rapinoe in particular will remember their shots off the wood work and will be out for redemption.
That loss in the World Cup Final was gut wrenching for this women’s team, a loss they have carried with them throughout this tournament. With Morgan’s header in the closing seconds of yesterday’s match to see them through to the gold medal round, the drama has rivaled that of last year’s run to the World Cup Final. The only question remaining: Can the U.S. cap it off this time with a victory?