USWNT: A Year To Reflect

2011 ended in a rather blue note for the US Women’s National team after their devastating loss in the 2011 Women’s World Cup final against Japan. After what was deemed one of the worst penalty shootouts in the tournaments history, most players and fans were left feeling gloomy after such a diligent year. But 2012 held a redemption key for the USWNT as they had the London Olympics to anticipate towards.

2012 started with an almighty bang at the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament held in Canada. Outscoring their opponents 38 – 0, their biggest win coming up against the Dominican Republic 14-0, the USWNT won the competition without even breaking a sweat. With their spot in London confidently sealed, it was time to group together as a team to build and grow stronger and deadlier than ever before.

Although the USWNT suffered an embarrassing loss in the Algarve Cup which was held in Portugal, the team still kept their heads up and remained confident despite losing a competition which was deemed ‘their own’. After demolishing Denmark 5-0 and stealthily taking victory over Norway 2-1, they suffered yet another loss to Japan, 1-0 credited to Takase in the 84th minute. Thanks to a hat trick from Alex Morgan though, they defeated Sweden 4-0 to take home third place.

Pia Sundhage on Alex Morgan’s recent performances:

“She is unique; there is no doubt about that. And this team brings out Alex Morgan’s performance because we are doing a good job behind her and we find her with the right balls. And you have to give Abby Wambach a lot of credit for the way Alex Morgan is playing. Those two up top are the reason we are playing 4-4-2 and I think it’s a pretty good 4-4-2.”

The team fired on towards Japan as they had two scheduled friendly games against the host country and Brazil for the Kirin Cup. Going into these games, all the talk was about young American forward Alex Morgan. As the superb striker was heading to Japan with 9 goals in 6 games it was hard for the spotlight not to shine on her. The Americans edged out of defeat against Japan with a 1-1 score line, a lucky grab for the USWNT. However they smashed their Brazilian opponents 3-0 – not quite the revenge Brazil was hoping for after their shocking knockout out of the WWC thanks to the USWNT.

Before heading over to Sweden for the Volvo’s cup, the USWNT made a quick stop home to thump China 4-1 – an own goal from the away side, a double from Alex Morgan and a nice clean strike from Abby Wambach to seal the deal. After their superb victory against China in front of a home crowd of 18,000, it was time to go head to head against the 1st and 3rd placed teams of the 2011 Women’s World Cup – Sweden and Japan. This would be the third time in 2012 the USWNT had come up against Japan with a loss and a tie holding them back. While it would be their second match against the Sweeds, after Alex Morgan demolished Sweden in a 4-0 thumping only three months prior in Portugal.

Subsequently, the USWNT came away with victories against both Sweden and Japan. With the help from Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath, the USWNT downed Sweden 3-1 while they simply ran circles around Japan in a 4-1 walloping with an outstanding performance by both Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach. Compared to the start of the year, the US Women showed composure and strength in those two games and it was a tiny glimpse into what they would be showing at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

With one last friendly against Canada in Utah, the USWNT were only one month away from the biggest tournament of the year – the 2012 London Olympic Games. After their tremendous year so far with some very eye-catching results, everyone knew they would be one of the strongest teams in the tournament with a very high chance of taking out the gold this year. History was backing the US team as they have made an appearance in every single Olympic final since first emerging into the Olympic Games in 1996. With a nervous 2-1 triumph over Canada, they said goodbye to the US and said hello to London.

After going down 2-0 against France, the US scored four unanswered goals to comeback and beat the French 4 goals to 2 in their first group match of the Olympics. The US also won against Colombia and Korea DPR to top their group and head into the quarter finals of the tournament. Their quarter final opponents were New Zealand, who the US narrowly defeated 2-1 at the start of the year thanks to two very late headers from Alex Morgan.

The game was fast paced and determining tough for both teams to score a goal. However, Abby Wambach scored a goal off a ball from Alex Morgan while the new kid on the block, Sydney Leroux, came off the bench to score the winner for the USWNT, making the final score 2-0 at St James’ Park.

The USWNT had had a smooth and calm road leading up to the semi-finals and their next opponents was against their ‘friendly’ neighbours from the North. With just one win away from their 5th consecutive Olympic finals appearance, fans and players knew how strong John Herdman’s women were now and that winning this game wasn’t going to be an easy task – and they were far from wrong.

The nerves were racking up before the game and for USWNT fans they quadrupled when Christine Sinclair scored the opening goal. It was a battle of the goals from then on, as one team scored, the other would follow suit. After a nail biting game it was all squared at 3-3, which then resulted in half an hour of extra time to be played.

The clock was ticking away as both teams battled to the death to get a goal but in the 123rd minute, the heart wrenching goal finally came. After an astounding cross from Heather O’Reilly, Alex Morgan buried the ball into the net with a spectacular last minute header. There were tears and shrieks of joy from the US players while no sound escaped any player from the Canada team.

Dwayne Johnson (@5_0_johnson) expressed how close he was to having a heart attack during the game but how it all ended in happiness. Other tweeters conveyed their excitement, happiness and heart break over twitter, articulating how they were either going to go into cardiac arrest or collapse from lack of air. Players also used the social media website to express their anger or delight, with Melissa Tancredi tweeting how “you can’t be proud of something that’s just given to you”.

But with the controversial game aside, the USWNT had finally made it into the Olympic final. With Japan beating France in their quarter final game, fans were treated to a World Cup Final rematch. The big question on every body’s lips was: would the USWNT prevail or will Japan triumph over the US again to take away gold?

This Olympic final had completely sold out the big Wembley stadium in England and it was guaranteed to have everyone on the edges of their seats.

The USWNT started off strong, scoring an early goal from Carli Lloyd with Alex Morgan being credited for the assist. But the US seemed to have taken the back seat as Japan was in control right up until half time. Japan was shooting balls from left, right and centre but Hope Solo displayed her unbelievable goal keeping skills as she safely disposed of all balls being shot her way.

Going into the second half, the USWNT found their strength and speed again as Carli Lloyd cracked another early goal with her right foot from 20 yards out. The saviour from the 2008 Beijing final was at it again, scoring the winning goal in the 54th minute. However, Japan fought back in the 63rd minute with a rebound goal from Yuki Ogimi.

After Christie Rampone blocked Sawa’s shot directly off the goal line, Sawa touched the ball towards Ogimi who kicked the ball right through the USWNT defenders. The defying shots continued from both teams until the final whistle blew, naming the USWNT victors of the 2012 London Olympic games.

Pia Sundhage on the gold medal winning game:

“Unbelievable. There are no words. I can’t even try to do it in Swedish. This is just unbelievable. Winning a gold (medal) at Wembley is phenomenal. The thing with Carli Lloyd is we didn’t have her in the starting line-up before the Olympics. She has proven that I was wrong. Today, I think she was one of the best players.”

The USWNT players returned home with the gold medals weighing down their necks and the biggest fan reactions ever. To celebrate their excellent achievements, the women played 10 games in their fan tribute tour around the US. They faced off against Costa Rica, Australia, Germany, Ireland and China; winning all their games apart from the two against Germany which both ended in a draw.

Captain American herself, Christie Rampone commented on how well the year went for the team and her.

“It’s been an unbelievable few years for us between the World Cup, all the games leading up to the Olympics and being able to come home with a gold medal. It made all the good and bad days of training worth it.”

As 2012 is drawing to a close, fans and players alike are looking back on the admirable year they have all just experienced. Along with winning the gold medal in London, four of the USWNT players were short listed for FIFA Women’s player of the year, with Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan making it through to the final three. Pia Sundhage was also nominated for Coach of the Year. Fans also voted Alex Morgan for the USWNT’s athlete of the year. Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan also tied the record for combined goals by two players.

“I’m not really one to talk about records ever, but something I’m very proud of is Alex and I tied a record today. Tying that record means so much to me because Alex and I spend so much time together in practice. Drill after drill, shot after shot, keeping each other motivated. When Alex scores it lights something inside of me and when I score it lights something inside her,” Abby Wambach said.

Although the USWNT has to carry on without their spectacular coach of five years, Tom Sermanni has taken on the challenging role as head coach and will direct the USWNT to more spectacular wins in 2013.

 

Written by Siobhan Pedroza

Follow her on Twitter @briefcase_wanka

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