USWNT: Morgan's Miracle Sends United States Women into Gold-Medal Match
With this team, it's just not a big game until the drama sends someone swooning.
For this team, it's mission accomplished there, in almost unfathomable fashion.
And dear Lord, did this team show us something special this time.
This time, this team gave us a story so hopelessly implausible, so outrageously unrealistic, Hollywood's hackiest would have tossed it into the trash next to the morning paper and last night's leftovers.
Not that there was anything left over after this one.
Rarely has this sport seen a match better than this one, unless of course it was another one involving this same exact team facing almost the same exact situation.
And that's just it with this team.
Long-time admirers of this team wouldn't have been surprised by any of this, and if the soccer gods are good, this team's theater of dreams has another climactic act left for the finish.
But whatever happens from this point on, this team will have a hard time topping this.
This time, this team outdid itself.
This time, this team produced the kind of sizzling, skin-tingling Olympic drama that raises goosebumps, prompts water cooler conversations, creates new legends, furthers old ones and embeds itself into a nation's sporting consciousness.
After this game, this team is the team for Americans to watch this summer at the Olympics. And Kobe, LeBron and all the rest can only wish they had this kind of cred in the clutch.
Want a team for your wildest Olympic dreams? Their name is the United States women's soccer team, and they just beat Canada 4-3 in the best match you'll see this summer.
Rehashing all of it wouldn't be right, and if you're here, chances are you already know all about it. Suffice it, though, to say this.
The United States trailed Canada three times in their Olympic semifinal match at Old Trafford, the magical old stadium with the magical nickname of the "Theatre of Dreams," the world-famous home of Manchester United, the world-famous and most successful soccer club in the history of England.
Three times the United States pulled themselves level, each time in increasingly unlikely ways.
For an enchanting spell early in the second half, the matchup of North American powers threatened to turn into a grudge match between former University of Portland players. With Canada leading 1-0 through Christine Sinclair's first-half goal, the United States equalized courtesy of Megan Rapinoe.
Then Sinclair re-took the lead. Then Rapinoe re-erased it. Then Sinclair re-took it again.
And then, for seven agonizing minutes, the United States had to wait.
But 10 minutes before the end of regular time, veteran forward Abby Wambach equalized one more time, turning home a controversial penalty kick with the kind of professionalism and poise that have come to define her glittering career.
And all that came about only after the referee had awarded the United States a controversial indirect free kick in Canada's box for a rarely enforced rule about goalkeepers holding the ball too long.
But while that seemed improbable, the Americans were just warming up.
Last summer, in the Women's World Cup quarterfinals against Brazil, Wambach equalized in the second minute of stoppage time in the second half of extra time. This time, this team had another minute to work with, and it was more than enough.
With 30 minutes of extra time already played and two minutes of stoppage time already elapsed, Alex Morgan—the pacy, tricky, ordinarily earth-bound forward who hadn't scored since the opening game of the tournament—rose highest to meet Heather O'Reilly's cross and send a looping header into the net.
Wild scenes followed. The Americans high-fived and chest-bumped and screamed and wept. The Canadians just wept.
The clock would tell us that Morgan's goal came in the third minute of stoppage time in the second period of extra time. But with this team, that's not quite right.
With this team, Morgan's goal was right on time.
With this team, Morgan's header had to go in, because this team just had to get another crack at Japan for all the marbles.
They'll get that chance now, Aug. 9 at Wembley Stadium in the gold medal match. That's when and where this team will finally get their chance to put right the wrongs of that heartbreaking night last summer in Germany.
First, though, the reckoning.
Mere moments after Morgan's miracle, while the tears were still fresh at Old Trafford, the proclamations poured forth from cyberspace.
This game wasn't just one of the best in the history of the United States women's national team (though that certainly is true). More like it ranked among the best in the entire history of the entire women's game.
Other games have had more goals, better goals, later goals, more drama, more fans in the stands or even more improbable endings.
Few, however, have had all that tossed into the crucible of win-or-go-home Olympic stakes. Rarely have two teams spent so much of themselves on the playing field, and seldom has soccer seen a match in which all of that came together into one sublimely unforgettable night.
That might strike some as hyperbole, but with this team, it's not.
With this team, that's just the way it is.
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