It’s Not All That Surprising That The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Lost
Japan won the Women’s World Cup yesterday in dramatic fashion, knocking off the heavily favored United States team in penalty kicks. Other than the famous 1999 game where that blonde lady scored the game winning goal and then took her shirt off, I can’t remember women’s soccer ever receiving this much attention. I watched the gold medal game, and I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the product.
I’m not a big fan of soccer, but for a casual fan this game could not have been anymore intriguing. You had a huge underdog from a country ravaged by natural disaster going up against the most powerful country in the world. The U.S. had not lost to Japan in 25 straight matches. Plus, the American players just looked so much stronger/quicker/bigger than the Japanese players.
As the game progressed, it was clear that Japan was outmatched physically. However, they managed to keep the game close and things wound up in a 2-2 tie. That’s when the game headed into penalty kicks, probably the stupidest way imaginable to end a major championship. I don’t want to belabor this point, because thousands of smarter and more articulate people than me have already argued this. But come on, how is it fair to decide the fate of a tournament on a few penalty shots? That’s like deciding the NBA Finals on a game of knockout (which, given the LeBron James and Dwayne Wade’s knockout struggles this summer would have been even more disastrous for them then the actual Finals were).
The primary problem with penalty kicks is that you’re eliminating athleticism from a sport that, during regulation, is heavily based on athleticism. So the United States’ advantage in that department becomes completely null and void when you get to the penalty kicks. Additionally, I feel like they punish the team that is favored to win the game. In yesterday’s match, Japan really had nothing to lose when they got to that point. Just by playing the United States to that point, they had achieved some semblance of victory.
Now, certainly there was still pressure on the Japanese players. They obviously wanted to win very badly. But they were in a much better position than the United States players, who had already blown two leads, had dominated the game, and were likely thinking that they should have put these bums away 45 minutes ago. I don’t know that that is what they were thinking, but their performance in the penalty kick round was pretty embarrassing. One girl kicked the ball over the net, something that has to be a rarity in soccer.
At any rate, the larger point I want to make is this: people shouldn’t be that surprised that the United States lost because soccer is a game that is tailor made for upsets. I don’t have any numbers or statistics to support this, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that more upsets happen in soccer than in any other team sport in the world. It’s just logical; the field is massive, each team has 11 players out there, and, frankly, even the best players are not that “good” at the game.
Wow, controversial statement there. Let me explain what I mean, though. Clearly, the top soccer players, people like that Abby Wambach woman or that girl Marta who plays for Brazil, are excellent at what they do. They’re athletic, fast, strong, they can handle the ball, etc. However, even their considerable skills are not enough to really dominate a game. Soccer is too much of a team sport for any one individual to take control. In a sport like basketball, the best players completely control the flow of the game. That rarely happens in soccer, when you see top players perpetually frustrated and flustered by less-skilled individuals.
Here’s another thing to consider about soccer, and I’ve already kind of touched on this above, but, based on what I’ve seen, even really good players can’t maneuver around the field that easily. It’s just too hard of a game, the ball is too hard to control, and there are too many people in your way.
Here is my point: the United States lost the game despite being a superior team, which, due to the very nature of soccer itself, should surprise no one.