Open Mike Monday: USWNT and Mexico Win Gold, Community Shield, Conte Ban
The Olympics are over, and not a moment too soon. Football—the league kind, the type we all live for—is back.
And though the meaningful matches are barely under way, the storylines are already aplenty.
In England, the league champions and FA Cup holders have squared off in a match that didn't mean much but nevertheless told us plenty.
In Italy, a major manager is banned for almost a year but nevertheless will have access to his squad.
And back in the realm of the Olympics, two North American champions are on top of the sport.
Most Multi-Sided Gold-Medal Story
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For Americans, Team USA's run to gold in the women's Olympic football tournament was an inspiring redemption narrative, full of likeable players overcoming limitations and becoming unlikely heroines.
For non-Americans, it was probably more like a broken record with a side of injustice.
Those living outside the United States probably will point to the controversial, seemingly biased refereeing decisions that led to Team USA's late equalizer against Canada in the semifinals.
They'll also point to the three straight Olympic titles—give someone else a chance, right?—and their apparently cocky celebratory T-shirts.
That's a shame. This team offered much more than that.
Heading into the tournament, Carli Lloyd was a reserve midfielder, a bit-part player relegated to the bench behind Shannon Boxx. But after Boxx sustained an injury in the first game, Lloyd became a game-changer for the Americans—the scorer of four goals, including two strikes in the final against Japan.
Lloyd was far from the only star, of course. Abby Wambach excelled again, scoring five goals (one in every match except for the final).
Alex Morgan scored a few of her own—including the dramatic winner against Canada—and set up a bunch more for her teammates.
Hope Solo stayed out of trouble and kept opponents out of her net.
Megan Rapinoe became a breakout star on the wing. Lauren Cheney kept on keeping on as the team's best creative player and Christie Rampone held the team and defense together as the long-serving captain.
And then there were the comebacks.
The U.S. fell behind France 2-0 early in the opener but won anyway, blowing away Les Blues with four unanswered goals.
In the semifinals, the Americans trailed thrice, only to come back all three times and win in extra time. Funky refereeing decisions or not, neutrals and fans alike could see it was a heck of a story.
And then, in the final, Pia Sundhage's squad found what they traveled to Britain to find: Redemption.
After losing to Japan on penalty kicks in the World Cup final last summer, Team USA really had only one goal this time around. They got it with a 2-1 victory.
Beating Japan, then, was almost as sweet as winning the gold medals themselves.
And for American fans, the whole thing was a thrilling, inspirational ride with a cast of memorably rootable characters.
Best Reason to Believe
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After seeing the favorites duke it out in the women's final, the men's tournament threw quite the curveball.
Strange as it has always sounded, Brazil entered the tournament having never won gold at the Olympics.
With a team full of young but experienced and supremely talented players, the seleção expected and were expected to romp past all comers.
Then Mexico—a nation that had never medaled at all in men's football—scored less than 30 seconds into the final through Oribe Peralta.
Then Peralta added another in the second half.
Then Mexico held off Brazil's inevitable late surge.
Then it was over and Mexico had won it all.
How about that? Though Mexico has a storied footballing history, few outside North America would have given El Tri a chance against Brazil.
But on this day, toca, toca, toca beat out joga bonito, and deservedly so. Instead of cowering in the face of Brazil's superstars, the Mexicans took the game to their more illustrious opponents and ran out worthy winners.
Now, a footie-mad nation has real reason for optimism. After winning titles at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup and 2011 Pan-American games, Mexico has added Olympic gold in 2012.
So, a serious question: Is it time to start thinking about Mexico as a contender for the 2014 World Cup?
Most Meaningful Meaningless Match
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Manchester City came from behind to defeat Chelsea 3-2 on Sunday in the English FA Community Shield at Birmingham's Villa Park.
The result itself meant little. City claimed a piece of silverware, but few inside the club or out will consider it a major or even minor title.
But the match was meaningful nonetheless.
For City, Carlos Tevez and Yaya Toure shined. Toure did so throughout last season's triumphant title campaign, and so his contribution was hardly noteworthy.
On the other hand, Tevez went missing for months on end last season. That's why his performance was important for City.
Having Tevez on hand—along with Toure and City's large, expensive cast of strong performers—can only bode well for City's chances of a repeat.
Meanwhile, manager Roberto Mancini tried out a daring, experimental three-man back line. It kinda, sorta worked, and we might see something similar during the season.
For Chelsea, the defense that had struggled in the preseason struggled mightily again. And a preseason that had been disappointing already turned into a bona fide flop.
Big signings have been made, but after the departure of talismanic striker Didier Drogba, it's hard to see Chelsea producing the kind of clutch results they did down the stretch last season.
That will be especially true if new faces like Eden Hazard take time to settle in.
Roberto Di Matteo earned himself the full-time job by winning the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League last season as interim manager. But don't think for a moment that he has anything resembling job security under Roman Abramovich.
Most Baffling Ban
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Juventus won the Italian title last season. This season, they won't have their manager.
Juventus manager Antonio Conte last week received a 10-match ban for failing to report match-fixing activities during his tenure as Siena manager in 2010-11 (The Guardian).
But Goal.com reports that Conte will still be allowed to train his players on non-match days.
Not surprisingly, the news isn't sitting well with some of his colleagues.
“A suspended player can train, but I think a coach with a long ban shouldn’t be able to train his team,” said AS Roma's Zdenek Zeman. “I haven’t read the full verdicts of the betting trial, but if people want to weaken this phenomenon (match-fixing), then they have to be more decisive.”
Zeman is right. Conte's absence on match days will no doubt hurt Juventus.
But if he can still manage his players and the club away from the pitch, what exactly is the point of banning him at all?
Prettiest Goal of the Week
The week's most important goal came off the head of Mexico's Oribe Peralta in the men's gold-medal match against Brazil.
The prettiest, though, came off the boot of Manchester City's Carlos Tevez.
No keeper could have stopped that.
As I wrote elsewhere, the prospect of a reinvigorated Tevez, a behaving Mario Balotelli and the usual Sergio Aguero in Manchester City's strikeforce should send chills down the spines of opposing defenses.
Biggest FAIL of the Week
This week's biggest FAIL also comes from Sunday's FA Community Shield.
During the first half, new Chelsea signing Eden Hazard tried to get fancy with his footwork in the midfield.
Unfortunately for him—but fortunately for the sake of humor—Hazard had a bit of trouble with his backheel.
In the end it probably won't matter. Six months from now, Hazard and Chelsea will probably be laughing at everyone.
Best Quote of the Week
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Finally, this week's best quote comes from the aftermath of Mexico's victory over Brazil in the men's Olympic tournament final.
Mexican forward Giovani dos Santos sat out the match through injury, but he served as a vital part of Mexico's squad throughout the tournament.
It must have been a bittersweet title for Gio, who has languished for years almost entirely unused on Tottenham Hotspur's bench.
But on Sunday, in the same city where he's had an interminable club nightmare, dos Santos experienced his greatest day as a footballer.
Afterward, he was in a giving mood.
“This gold medal goes to all of those in Mexico who always believed in us," said dos Santos (New York Times). "For those who didn’t believe in us? Well, let them celebrate, too.”