USWNT's flair for the dramatic is a winning formula -- again

The USA is through to the semifinals in women's soccer at the Tokyo Olympics after beating the reigning European champion Netherlands, 4-2, in a shootout after their match ended, 2-2, in Yokohama.

The measure of the USA's greatness in women's soccer is how often their big matches have been tight and how they have usually prevailed.

Which is why the shootout loss to Sweden in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals was so stunning.

And makes Friday night's shootout victory so sweet for Alex Morgan and Christen Press, who missed against Sweden in Brasilia and converted their chances on the USA's second and third attempts Friday night.

The USA has won four of the six previous gold medals in women's soccer, but six of the 10 semifinals and finals have gone to overtime. Friday's match makes eight of 15 knockout games that have gone to overtime.

The USA has only lost twice. To Norway on a golden goal in the 2000 gold-medal game in Sydney and to Sweden in a shootout five years ago.

The USA's win over the Netherlands ranks among its top three Olympic wins in terms of the drama. In all three of them, it had to come back from behind to win.

The USA played its best game to date at the Tokyo Olympics against the Netherlands, but the result could have gone either way.

Friday's victory had the added bonus of Alyssa Naeher's save on Lieke Martens' penalty kick in the 81st minute that rescued the USA after the Dutch stormed back from a 2-1 deficit and was knocking on the door in search of a winner.

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But as great as it was, the USA-Netherlands game still ranks behind two other games that spectators at least had the privilege to savor.

Everyone remembers the first gold medal captured in Athens, Georgia, where 76,489 fans watched the USA beat China, 2-1.

The USA would not have been there but for its comeback win over archrival Norway, the reigning world champion, in the semifinals, a 2-1 win on goals by the great Michelle Akers in the 75th minute and Tiffeny Milbrett in overtime.

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The most thrilling women's game ever played, a gem being formed before your eyes, was the USA's 4-3 overtime win over Canada on Morgan's goal in the 123rd minute in the 2012 Olympic semifinals at Old Trafford in Manchester, England.

Three times Canada went ahead thanks to the magnificent Christine Sinclair, and three times the USA responded with goals, the third following a decision by Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen to whistle goalie Erin McLeod for time-wasting and give the USA an indirect free kick a couple yards inside the penalty area.

Sinclair labeled the decision "shocking."

"We feel like we didn't lose," she said. "We feel like it was taken from us. It's a shame in a game like this that's so important the referee decided the result before it started."

Asked if she felt badly for the Canadians, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said without hesitation: "No."

All that happened in August 2012 at Old Trafford and afterwards -- FIFA suspended Sinclair for four games for "unsporting behavior" directed at match officials -- will be relived all weekend.

The USA and Canada will meet in the Olympic semifinals in Kashima on Monday (4 a.m. ET, 1 a.m. PT).

USA-Canada Photo: Simon Bellis/Newspix/Icon Sportswire

12 comments about "USWNT's flair for the dramatic is a winning formula -- again".
  1. Bob Ashpole, July 30, 2021 at 1:53 p.m.

    Good article, Paul. I agree with your point of view, but I wonder how many others will instead condemn the players for winning the match (instead of tying).

    I think "Drama Queens" is an appropriate phrase. I was worried that Coach Vlatko was going to have a stroke. Not joking. I suspect that today was his first experience with pressure of that magnitude.

    Finally, I was surprised at the confidence of the US players displayed during the shootout. The commentator said that the US team practiced taking penalties every day in training. It showed. Between the four US penalty takers and Naeher's saves, Netherlands had no chance even though they had shot first.

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, July 30, 2021 at 1:55 p.m.

    Sigh. Meant "for not winning the match (instead of tying)."

  3. Kent James, July 30, 2021 at 2:58 p.m.

    Although I think the article does a nice job keeping things in perspective, "drama queens" has a few too many negative conotations for my taste.  "Clutch performers" might be more appropriate.  

    While the game could have gone either way, and there was a period during the second half when the Dutch seemed to be the stronger side, I think overall the US was better and deserved to win.  The first Dutch goal was completely against the run of play and just an excellent shot, while it seemed like Naeher should have saved the 2nd Dutch goal (though she more than made up for it with the save of the PK and the later spot kicks).  

    The US brought energy to this game that was missing previously, and the passing was much better.  Ertz, Horan and Mewis took it to the Dutch for the first 30 minutes in midfeld, keeping them unsettled whenever they got the ball.  The Dutch seemed to gain strength (or confidence) in the 2nd half, and it took a while for the US subs to get going, but in the late stages the US seemed to get our mojo back.  Absolutely clutch finishing on the kicks at the end.  

    Of course, if we could learn to stay a few inches more onside, it would not have been this tight (9 goals called back for offside in 4 games???).  One might argue that we need to work on that (and one would not be wrong to do so), but most of them were very tight calls, so it's not like lazy players were not getting back onside or anything.

    Congratulations to the USWNT for a job well done under a lot of pressure.  It is important to remember that at this stage, there are no easy wins....

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, July 30, 2021 at 5:06 p.m.

    My view of forwards is that if they are never off-side, they are not trying hard enough.

    You are right that "drama queen" is used as an insult by some. I interpreted the phrase here as referring to people who revel in dramatic circumstances that would have others fainting. Drama doesn't get higher than the shootout today. And the USWNT ruled it.

  5. Barry Ulrich, July 30, 2021 at 4:21 p.m.

    Player placement during corner kicks needs to be rethought.  Would it be asking too much to place a player on the far side of the Penalty Area whenever a corner kick is taken?  How often have we seen corner kicks fly over the assembled players, usually going into touch for the opponent's throw in or goal kick?  

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, July 30, 2021 at 5:14 p.m.

    At this level, rarely on corners. Usually the ball is recovered before it goes out of touch. It happens much more often on crosses during the run of play, simply because dead balls allow more accuracy. Putting someone out so wide on a corner that they have no chance to finish is a waste with skilled teams. That is why you see people positioned to attack the far post instead of outside the area to contain a wild ball.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, July 30, 2021 at 5:17 p.m.

    Let me put it another way. At this level, if someone cannot hit consistently good balls on a corner kick, then they should not be taking the corners kicks. Replacing the kicker makes much more sense than putting someone out wide just to chase down wild balls.

  8. R2 Dad replied, July 30, 2021 at 6:38 p.m.

    And yet, we have GB talking about 2nd balls on the men's side.

  9. Chance Hall, July 31, 2021 at 12:31 p.m.

    Bob. Have to disagree on not placing on the back post. Seen too many games won or lost because a team did not have someone there. Besides as badly as peeno is doing on the corners that's where most of the balls are going. Just giving the other team a easy goal kick is not efficient use of a great opportunity. Much rather see Press taking those. 

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, July 31, 2021 at 2:31 p.m.

    Chance I think you are talking about defending corners. I am talking about taking corners. If you are talking about taking, my point is that weakside players should be located where they can attack the far post area and not be so far outside of the penalty area that they add nothing to the attack. If a kicker cannot provide accurate service into the box, then someone else should be taking the corner kicks. This is top of the pyramid, not some rec team at the bottom.

  11. S Nissen, July 31, 2021 at 1:59 p.m.

    I noticed something in this match that I've seen throughout this Olympic tournament, with all the matches I've seen: ball watching. Rather than run to an open position or to defend a possible attack, many players seem to be just watching the player with the ball, hoping it will (or will not) end up in the goal. That's not usually true of the best teams, and almost never true of the U.S.A. 

    I wonder: what is it about this event, or the weather, or the pressure, or the stadium conditions, or the food, or the accommodations that is leaving all the players, on all teams, so sluggish? Don't tell me it's the heat/humidity; NWSL has teams in Orlando and Houston whose weather conditions are almost always worse than in Japan.

  12. Bob Ashpole replied, July 31, 2021 at 2:33 p.m.


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