Sunday, July 17, 2011

Belief is... the USA Women's Soccer Team

Some things you just can't explain. If you were with me and the rest of the nation in watching the 2011 Women's World Cup Final today, you know exactly what I mean. With all that the USA players struggled and persevered through, with all the tension and excitement they saw in their matches, with all their team chemistry and patriotism, there was always the belief that they could do it. The belief that they could take it to the finals and go all the way. Even after the dramatic match-up and near loss against Brazil in the quarterfinals, that hope was never diminished.

And now heartbroken is the only word fitting to describe those players who gave it their all on the soccer pitch. Hope Solo, still a hero in my heart. Heather O'Reilly. Alex Morgan. Abby Wambach. The whole rest of the team that gave our nation a chance to believe in victory. I know I was along for that ride, jumping up with elation each time the US took a lead, both in the 2nd half of regular time (69th min), and the first half of overtime (104th min). Bowing my head in agony each time Japan equalized. And then the disastrous penalty shoot out.

As Coach Pia Sundhage said afterwards, there's no explaining it. Those first three misses from the US were excruciating to watch. Even then there was still the hope that the US would, like before, miraculously come back and take a championship they all deserved. With such a close, back-and-forth game, the 3-1 loss to Japan in the penalty shootout was an agonizing loss. I could see it in the eyes of the US players at the end, watering and shining with emotion, probably not alone with the millions of the watchers who were biting their nails and tugging their shirts throughout the entire match.

And it just goes to show how much a national game like this means to people. Not just the people watching in the US, but around the world and military bases as well. It doesn't have to be soccer, but the World Cup only comes once every four years, and soccer just happens to be the game with the characteristic of producing the unexpected, no matter how tragic. From the sport's point of view, it was a good match. You can't deny that it was a game well played for most all the players.

The thing that gets me is that the US team was so close to completing the journey, having completely outplayed the Japanese team in the first half but not able to finish any of their scoring opportunities. Their passing was strong, but their passion stronger. And that's what a winning team needs. The passion to play for themselves and for their country. From the moment the national anthems were played, there was a patriotic edge to it all. Especially for viewers like us that, just by watching, felt a fierce sense of loyalty and attachment to the team for what they did. They were almost there. I'm still crying over it. There's nothing now that will be able to deter that empty feeling of loss after such a cruel defeat. But find some reassurance that we'll still mourn together, all 300 million of us, as one proud nation backing one fantastic team.

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