There's plenty of competition for the limelight in these Olympic Games that feature more than 10,000 athletes from 204 countries competing in nearly 30 sports. But the U.S. women’s soccer team remains on track to glory after their spectacular 4-3 victory in the semifinals over Canada on Monday puts them into Thursday’s gold medal game against Japan. Here are a few observations from the USA's win in Manchester …
TRIO OF STARS. “I didn’t even see it go in,” said Alex Morgan, who from six yards headed home a cross from Heather O’Reilly two minutes into stoppage time of the second overtime period. It was the USA’s first lead of the game. It spared us a penalty-kick tiebreaker. And it further confirmed that the 23-year-old – who scored twice and had three assists en route to the semis -- has the potential to become a star of Mia Hamm proportions.
O’Reilly got the ball from Abby Wambach, who in the 80th minute tied the game, 3-3, with perfectly struck penalty kick – giving the 32-year-old a goal in each of the USA’s five matches at these Games and 143 career goals.
Megan Rapinoe, the dynamic 27-year-old winger, scored directly off a corner kick -- a gol olimpico at the Olympics -- in the 54th minute to make it 1-1 and in the 60th minute hit the net with a rocket from the corner of the penalty area to tie the game at 2-2. Rapinoe has three goals and two assists so far.
THE PK. Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen, with Canada ahead, 3-2, called Canadian keeper Erin McLeod for taking more than six seconds to release the ball. The ensuing indirect free kick hit Lauren Sesselmann in the arm and Wambach buried the 80th minute penalty kick to send the game into overtime. The Canadians may claim that the handball wasn’t deliberate, but they were also lucky that Pedersen didn’t call a PK two minutes later when Morgan was fouled twice in the penalty area.
GOALS WHEN THEY NEED THEM. The Americans went on the attack from the opening whistle but they failed throughout the game to find a rhythm, rushing too many crosses, misplaying balls, and rarely stringing passes together as the central midfield duo of Carli Lloyd and Lauren Cheney struggled.
The inability to keep possession didn’t doom the USA against the Canadians, who played an even scrappier game and owe the brilliant finishing of hat-trick scorer Christine Sinclair for coming close to an upset while creating half as many good scoring chances as the USA.
The gold-medal game on Thursday is a rematch of last year’s World Cup final, which the Japanese won on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie.
Much in the Americans’ favor is the knack for getting goals when they need them, such as against Canada and in their Olympic opener, when it crushed France, 4-2, after going down, 2-0.
The formidable strike force of Morgan-Wambach and dynamic Rapinoe give the USA a significant edge, but the central midfield may have to take more control for this exciting team to end up with gold.