See the other Dream Team one last time as U.S. Women's Soccer goes for gold
There's been a lot of hoopla around the U.S. men's basketball team at this Olympics — with University of Texas' Kevin Durant among a roster of one of the best basketball teams ever assembled — but so far, there's been precious little drama associated with the Dream Team 2.0 as it alley-oops its way to the medal rounds of the tournament.
If you want a combination of incredible talent, high energy and a flair for the dramatic in an American team at the Olympics, you've got one chance remaining to see them. They're the U.S. National Women's Soccer Team (or USWNT, for short), and they face a rematch of sorts Thursday afternoon in the gold medal game vs. Japan.
Last year, at the FIFA Women's World Cup, the Americans lost to Japan in the finals after a dramatic run that included one of the all-time great games in U.S. soccer history — men's or women's. That game, a penalty shoot-out win over Brazil in the quarterfinals, included the indelible moment when Abby Wambach scored the tying goal with roughly a minute remaining in a two-hour match that sent fans through a spectrum of human emotions.
Thursday's game (viewable at Austin's usual slate of soccer-friendly bars, as well as on the NBC Sports Network and on NBC's online feed) starts at 1:45 p.m. Austin time and will be played in front of what's expected to be the largest crowd to ever watch a women's Olympic soccer match.
It'll be hard to match the drama of this past Monday's semifinal match against Canada, in which the USWNT won in arguably the most dramatic fashion possible. They went down 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 on three goals by Canadian captain Christine Sinclair, getting level each time, first on two remarkable Megan Rapinoe goals, and then on a penalty kick from Abby Wambach following a controversial pair of foul calls.
With about thirty seconds left in extra time, with penalty kicks looming to decide who would go to the gold medal game and who would go to the bronze medal game, Alex Morgan headed the winning goal into the sliver of space between the crossbar and Canadian goalie Erin McLeod's outstretched fingers.
If you're unfamiliar with the other Dream Team, here are some reasons to love the USWNT.
The American goalkeeper has had an incredible tournament. With the exception of the Canada game and the 4-2 opening match against France, she's kept the other three U.S. opponents scoreless and maintained a remarkable goal-free stretch of 368 minutes over five games. The only thing she's lacked is diplomacy.
She Twitter-slapped NBC commentator and USWNT legend Brandi Chastain for criticizing the defending of a USWNT teammate during a broadcast, which is reminiscent of the time she publicly questioned her coach's decision to leave her out of the 2007 Women's World Cup semifinals. Solo was tested by Sinclair throughout the Canada game, and her frustration following the second and third goals was a dramatic departure from her usual in-control demeanor.
But if the game does come down to penalty kicks, there's no one USWNT fans would rather have in front of the net.
Wambach and Morgan have typically been the women most likely to score for the USWNT with decidedly different styles. Whereas Morgan is quick and opportunistic, using her speed and instincts to get in great position, Wambach (who's averaged nearly a goal a game in almost 200 USWNT matches) is often the tallest, strongest player on the field, equally adept with her head and her feet.
Rapinoe has had a foot in nearly every American goal this tournament, scoring from long range and assisting teammates with ridiculously on-target passes. Sydney Leroux is thriving in her role as end-of-game substitute, bringing energy, chaos and another attacking option for the team.
Captain Christie Rampone (37), Heather Mitts (34), Amy LePielbet (30) and Shannon Boxx (35) are stalwarts in the USWNT defense, with the leadership qualities and steadiness you'd want immediately in front of a goalie like Solo. And the senior players aren't just in the back: Wambach is 32 and midfielder Carli Lloyd turns 30 later this month.
Four women on the team have more international game experience than Landon Donovan, the most senior of the active U.S. men's players.
This team has so much of it. Solo talked candidly to ESPN The Magazine about the 2008 USWNT's gold medal win in Beijing — to a TODAY Show blog writer's horror — recalling, "When we were done partying, we got out of our nice dresses, got back into our stadium coats and at 7 a.m. with no sleep, went on the TODAY show drunk."
Wambach was sucker-punched in the face during the team's second group play game against Colombia, kept her emotions to a low boil, and scored a goal on a play where she was knocked down. Then, after the game, she tweeted a photo of her black eye with the hashtag "#reversesmokeeye."
In an act of courage that transcends playing on the field, Rapinoe came out in an OUT magazine feature just before the Olympics, and is arguably considered the most valuable player of this tournament.
They're Americans, after all
The men's team wasn't able to qualify, and while other American teams are still in the medal hunt, there's just the right balance of we're-the-best confidence and willful suspense in the USWNT mix. The men's and women's soccer games are more similar to one another than men's and women's basketball, though some are chauvinistically critical of the women's game as being somehow less than the men's.
Pay that no mind. The USWNT is worth watching. And come Thursday night, they very well might have reason to party again.