By Jacob Klinger
Canada gained and lost three leads. Then the match.
The undying fight the U.S. women displayed in their 4-3 heart-stopping win over Canada in the Olympic semi-finals is nothing new. American teams play hard if nothing else. The U.S. also produces great goalkeepers and counteratttacks with game-breaking speed and strength. These are the greatest attributes of the American game on either side of the gender divide. These are all backhanded compliments, too.
For all the applause Pia Sundhage's team deserves for its never-say-die attitude, what those compliments don't say is what forced the U.S. into extra time against a plucky and inferior Canadian side.
Time and again chances to make chances disappeared as off touches and lethargic passing undid promising American moves. This technical disappearing act nearly cost the U.S. a shot at gold as the world's best strike tandem was incapacitated by a collective inability to play through the middle. In fact, Team USA hardly controlled the middle of the pitch until very late in the game. Yet once it did, the entire team had Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe to thank for it.
Those two, full of pace, touch and creativity were literally everywhere Monday night. Crucial second balls were repeatedly won in tireless efforts from the wide mifielders. American attacks began with Heath and Rapinoe and ther tracking back ended many of Canada's. Workrate and crossing though hardly signifies a revolution for American soccer.
But their ability to control the ball, the game and the fate of this Olympic run just might.
By the end of the semi-final Heath and Rapinoe were having their way with the Canadian defensive set-up, pulling the ball from flank to flank and torturing an already-tired Canada. A perfect blend of endurance, speed and tippy-tapping dribbling creativity worked Canada into defeat. The U.S. finally had control.
Heather O'Reilly's simplest of crosses ultimately put the U.S. into the Gold Medal match. With more play like that of Heath and Rapinoe, though, the match surely would not have been one in the 123rd minute.
The U.S. will need similar performances from the American stars against Japan Thursday. Yet if the U.S., men or women, are to compete for titles in the future, it will be on the backs of teams full of players like Heath and Rapinoe.
HAVE YOUR SAY ... Does that kind of play not translate to the men's game. Am I putting too much stoke in Heath and Rapinoe's play? Or am I right? Whatever works for you, post it in the Facebook comments section below.
Jacob Klinger is a contributing writer to Soccer 365 where his column "Ready, Set, America" appears regularly. He also writes for No Short Corners and is currently a journalism student at Syracuse University. Jacob's love for the game goes back as far as he can remember, but was truly christened during the United States' cardiac qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. Between classes and columns, he still plays. You can follow him on Twitter @MrJacobK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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