Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Most Unlikely of Finals

An excuse for an Alex Morgan photo
Seems surreal, doesn't it?

A month ago, despite all their troubles in the knockout phase over the last two World Cups, seeing the U.S. in the final would hardly have constituted a surprise. In fact, a few die hards I know expected it. But this Cup has molecularly rerouted our expectations in stratified stages over a few rollicking weeks of unexpected but glorious ups and downs. Our ladies are making our men's run in 2010 look like an A-Z Ben Stein Dictionary reading.

The Ascension

With convincing wins over Colombia and North Korea, the U.S. qualified for the quarterfinal by their second game, making the third one against Sweden a matter of course. Win the game, win the group. But weak opponents or not, the early statement had been made. The Americans are here, and they're defending their No. 1 ranking.

The expectations soaring, the U.S. was perhaps lulled into a false sense of security. Whatever the case, this was the late 90's before the tech bubble.

The Fall

Sweden's first goal was like the oxygen flooding into the combustible building packed with explosives. The second goal... you could taste the intimidation...

Now the questions rained down. Where has Abby Wambach been? Can Hope Solo's firecracker personality withstand the pressures of this tournament? If the back line can't stand the scrutiny of the Swedes, how will it hold up against Marta or, worse, the mighty Germans?

Brazil was suddenly a trendy upset pick, including from yours truly. If there was no outward panic inside the U.S. camp, there were flashing red buttons all over this country. How was this team going to drop Brazil?

The Impossible

What words cannot convey, a pony-tailed man sawing away furiously at a mic'ed violin to these pictures can.

I can remember writing something about Landon Donovan's miracle goal against Algeria last summer and saying something like, "For the soccer fanatics among us, we will always remember our precise place - both physical and emotional - when Donovan scored the impossible goal." I will always remember where I was (and my terribly cheesy reaction) when Abby Wambach connected on that header. Penalties were preordained, as far as I was concerned. I was far more relaxed than I had any right to be. It all seemed meant to be by then. By the by, is there any doubt Ian Darke is one of us now? He's either very good at his job or he's become a severely tilted American sympathizer. Either way, works for me.

The Noise

At this point, can you even call this unexpected? France is the better team for the vast majority of a cool, drizzly afternoon, dinging the bar, controlling the build-up and yet... what else?

The Final

It took us down some undeniably strange and unreal roads, but here we are. The U.S. was supposed to be gone two rounds ago. Japan, too. The Japanese, with their humility, an incredibly disciplined style of play and a healing country behind them, will likely cull most of the world's neutral support, but this will be a remarkably positive game. Both of these teams have gathered no small measure of respect from observers of this World Cup through a gritty, determined approach... the U.S. snagging wins from odd places and Japan simply gumming teams to death with its death by a thousand cuts method.

I will not be picking a score for this game, not out of principle but because I'm actually going to miss the whole thing with no option of DVRing it, so it somehow feels disingenuous. I think the U.S. will triumph, but then again, I thought Germany (and then Sweden) would roll over the Japanese, and neither happened. If the France game proved anything, it's that the U.S. needs to tighten its midfield play and cut down on costly errors in possession during buildup. They've also proven the ability to circumnavigate and overcome those deficiencies with unbelievable theatrics that defy convention. So what the hell?

Should be an unreal final, folks. I'd tell my American brothers and sisters to enjoy it, but I'm probably not hitting on the right emotion there. Survive it, anyway.

- Will Parchman

1 comment:

Brian said...

Isn't there some rule about never needing an excuse to post an Alex Morgan photo? Well, there should be.