U.S. puts the 'worker' in Workers' Stadium with hard-fought gold
BEIJING -- Five thoughts after the U.S.'s gold-medal-winning 1-0 triumph over Brazil in women's soccer:
Hope Solo made the saves. Could you have written a script any better than the one Solo lived on Thursday at Workers' Stadium? Eleven months after her controversial benching against Brazil in the World Cup (also held here in China), Solo made several big plays to keep a clean sheet in the Olympic final. None was bigger than Solo's 72nd-minute reflex save on Marta's blast from eight yards after she had split two U.S. defenders in the box.
What was the rationale that former U.S. coach Greg Ryan had used for his benching of Solo last year? Oh, that's right: that she wasn't that good when it came to making reflex saves against a team like Brazil.
This gold medal is the U.S. women's most impressive on-field accomplishment in its history. Think of what this U.S. team had to deal with: the loss of its best player, Abby Wambach, to a broken leg right before the Olympics; the attention over the Solo controversy; the installation of a completely new possession-based attack under first-year coach Pia Sundhage; a 2-0 loss to Norway in the Olympic opener; endless comparisons to the Mia Hamm-led teams of the past; a final against the same Brazil outfit that beat the Americans 4-0 last year; and the continued improvement of other teams from around the world.
Nothing will ever match the 1999 Women's World Cup in terms of breakthroughs into the public consciousness, but from an on-field perspective, this Olympic gold is the U.S. women's most impressive achievement -- a tribute to the remarkable toughness of this team.
Brazil's women are the new version of the old Spanish men's team. Nobody can deny that Brazil has the most creative individual women's soccer players in the world. They're technically skilled, wondrously imaginative and can ping passes around the field at will. But no matter how fun they are to watch, they just can't win the big one.
Who does that sound like? You guessed it: pre-Euro 2008 Spain. Even though Brazil played far better soccer than the U.S. on Thursday, the Brazilians found themselves on the losing end in a world-championship final for the third straight occasion. Brazil has still never won a major tournament, and that drought will now continue for at least three more years until the 2011 World Cup.
From a soccer perspective, there's still room for improvement by the Americans. Let's be honest: The Brazilians controlled most of this Olympic final, but their inability to finish torpedoed them in the end. By contrast, the U.S. was just more efficient on its fewer scoring chances, and Carli Lloyd's rocket-fueled goal from just outside the box was a shot taken with the utmost of confidence. I'm curious to see how much better this U.S. team will perform its possession game now that Sundhage should have three full years to do it.
"I think the result tonight is a stepping stone," said defender Kate Markgraf. "We can still play better soccer than what we played tonight. And I think we all can look inward and be like, 'OK, we didn't keep possession how we've been trying to keep possession all year.' I'm pretty sure Pia will have the job for the next World Cup, and I can't wait to see ... where this team will be in three years."
Lori Chalupny is a hell of a player. That's what I wrote in my notebook in the 60th minute of the gold-medal game. The 24-year-old left back had a marvelous Olympic tournament, even though a concussion in the opener against Norway kept her out of nearly two full matches. Chalupny just has a sense for how to play the game.
On offense, she can barrel forward down the left side, cut into the middle on the dribble and threaten the goal, as she did by scoring the U.S.' best goal of the tournament in the semis against Japan. And on defense, Chalupny is tough as nails, more than willing to put a body on an attacker and cover a lot of ground.
On a memorable night in Workers' Stadium, she was a perfect symbol of the building's name. And, in the end, so were her teammates.