World Cup Woes: Comparing USA's Men's and Women's World Cup Journeys
Say what you want about soccer in America, but the World Cup captivates the attention of the nation every four years, period. What we saw in South Africa and Germany during both FIFA World Cups was anxiety, relief, overwhelming joy and anguish all in the same tournament. Heck, our nation’s mood changed more than a seven month pregnant woman’s.
What the Women’s World Cup in Germany showed also was how identical two team’s journeys in two different tournaments could be almost exactly the same. The ironic part, however, is that the two teams that are being spoken of come right from the land of the free and the home of the brave.
That’s right. In this breakdown, we will go through the biggest aspects of the USA men’s and women’s roller coaster journey through the World Cup, and just for a spoiler alert, both of their endings are not pretty.
Better Pool Play?
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
The men kicked off the 2010 World Cup by squaring off against our allies across the pond, England. Now the word “ally” certainly wasn’t mentioned at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, because in world football, England is arguably USA’s biggest rival. Ending the game in a 1-1 tie thanks to a Clint Dempsey ball that squibbed through England keeper’s hands, the Yankees were looking good with only Slovenia and Algeria from then on.
USA was robbed blindly of a win by Slovenia thanks to a pitiful refereeing gaff at the 86th minute, and that put USA on the ropes with a must-win game coming up against Algeria. Now we all know what happens next.
Within two minutes of elimination, USA was in danger of being sent home early in another disappointing finish, but Landon Donavan had other ideas. Off of the rebound from Altidore’s short strike, the captain put the ball in the back of the net and the USA on top of their pool.
On the women’s side, the magic didn’t come in pool play.
The tournament started off with the stars and stripes beating North Korea 2-0. So far, pretty simple.
In the second game of pool play, USA had to win against Colombia in order to move on to secure advancement, and quite frankly, they didn’t even make it a question. Winning 3-0, the women’s team sent themselves against Sweden with progression in the World Cup taken care of. Whether it was the lack of urgency from the US or the inspired play by Sweden, the Swedes won 2-1.
Winning two games immediately in your pool play not only stated the USA’s dominance, but also sent a message to the rest of the world that they are the real deal.
Better Pool Play: Men's Team
2-1 is wonderful, but not losing a single game and having the one of the most fascinating finishes in US sport's history gives the guys the edge.
More Dramatic Win?
Martin Rose/Getty Images
In late June, the World Cup was suddenly as American as rap music, Mountain Dew and The View: pretty popular in the states, but still had its share of people that could care less. Having the heightened drama in the pool play game that would possibly eliminate, USA drew over 4.5 households that had the match on. Game on.
As far as the game itself went, it wasn’t anything terribly exciting, and the 0-0 score showed for it. If the USA wanted their team in the headlines the following weeks, they would need to belt in a goal, or otherwise, the USA was out of South Africa.
Any other USA soccer fan could tell you the rest in detail, and I’m sure you could too, but let’s reminisce really quick. Tim Howard had just captured the ball after a weak cross by Algeria and quickly nailed Landon Donavan in stride, Peyton Manning style. Donavan then pushed the ball up field, completely uncontested, and finds Altidore, who sends it to Dempsey, who missed what seemed to be America’s final stand. That feeling lasted for about two seconds until Donavan swiftly moved in and sent the ball into the goal.
Fast forward through regulation, controversy, the first 120 minutes and you will find yourself watching the greatest finish in American soccer history.
Getting the red card in the 65th minute, the USA had to play nearly half the game with a man down, and with a one goal deficit to come back from, America was nearly another Brazilian casualty with the odds stacked heavily against them. In stoppage time of extra time, Rapinoe throttled a ball into a window that was the size of, well, the ball, and gave star forward Abby Wombach a golden chance to send the ball in with her head. Rising to the occasion, Wombach leaped over the defenders and tied up the match at two goals apiece. For that day, clutch was spelt A-B-B-Y.
In penalty kicks, Hope Solo stoned Brazil on their third kick, which was just enough for America, who made all five strikes to get through to the semifinals.
More Dramatic Win: Women's Team
Scoring a goal in stoppage time of extra time is like getting into a store that's about to close with the manager standing at the door with the key. Except a lot more awesome.
More Controversial Game?
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
In the second pool play math for the USA against Slovenia, the best player on the other team was the man in yellow. Referee Koman Coulibaly overturned a beautiful goal in the 86th minute on a Donavan cross with literally no explanation.
After the game, no one had a clue why the score wasn’t 3-2 in the US’ favor. “He (the referee) wouldn't tell us what the call was,” stated Donavan. Coulibaly also stirred up some controversy after he booked Robbie Findley, and both of those added up to the ref being suspended for the remainder of the World Cup.
My goodness, where do we even begin? The officiating for the USA-Brazil game was so lopsided that they would have been better off playing with no ref and just using the honor system. The three biggest ref blunders went as followed:
-Twenty minutes into the second half, Rachel Buehler was red carded by playing a ball inside her own penalty box, which also led to a penalty kick for Brazil with a 1-0 US lead.
-Hope Solo then proceeded to make a remarkable save and keep the USA in the lead, but the refs claimed she came off the line and sent Marta to the box to tie the score up at one apiece.
-In extra time, Marta scored on a wonderful shot, the only problem was though she was clearly offside. Offside to everyone except the ref, at least.
Those three major questionable calls only led to a more hectic storyline as the USA came back and beat Brazil on PKs, and we can all agree that the official was not happy seeing that happen.
More Controversial Game: Women's Team
It was apparent that the refs didn't want to see USA victorious in either game, but the Brazil game had at least three major calls that were in Brazil's favor in an elimination match.
Team with the Brighter Star?
Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
Landon Donavan was the poster child of Team USA going in to South Africa, and he came back a legend.
Donavan scored three goals last summer, and every single one of them was a crucial goal. He netted his first goal against Slovenia, which ended in a 2-2 draw, but the game after that was the biggest goal in his career against Algeria. Once elimination came around, Donavan booted in the lone goal against Ghana in the second half on a penalty kick that put the game into extra time. Not only did Donavan fill up the net, but his stellar cross against Slovenia would have put the game at 3-2, but like last slide said, some refs just don’t want the US to win.
If anyone knew just one player on the US team, it probably would have been Abby Wambach. The star forward stepped up in critical moments, the most monumental one being against Brazil, by using her noggin to tie the game up with only minutes left on the clock.
After the Hollywood-esque victory, Wambach found her team struggling in the second half, but again used her head to advance the squad to the World Cup Final with a score of 3-1. In extra time of the championship game, Wambach seemed to be the 2011 Brandi Chastain with another header, but the late choke by America left her goal being borderline useless.
Team with the Brighter Star: Women's Team
This one could have been a coin toss, but two of Abby’s goals were game winning, whereas Landon only had one game winner. Both had a stellar World Cup, but Abby’s clutch goals and brilliant leadership gives her the slight edge.
More Painful Loss?
Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
The Stars and Stripes started the game off behind by giving a goal up to the Black Stars just five minutes into the game. In the second half, Landon Donavan was put on the line for a key opportunity to tie the game up at ones, and he did so by rocketing the ball off the right post and into the net.
Once extra time came around, Ghana led off with another early strike, which became the deciding factor in a 2-1 defeat.
The meaning behind this game was huge for the Yankees since Ghana, a country some Americans have never even heard of, ousted in the 2006 World Cup. Revenge would have tasted pretty sweet for the Americans by sending themselves in to the quarterfinals and opening the gates for American soccer attention even more.
If I was in Vegas the week leading up to the final, I would have wagered every dime in my name on USA. It looked like an absolute steal, 22-0-3 all-time against Japan, and with our strongest team since 1999 it would be an utter shock to see a loss.
Well, I was shocked.
When Wambach gave USA a 2-1 lead, the trophy was on its way to the states, but then, with only minutes to go, it happened. The Japanese scored to put the game in PKs, and simply put, the USA blew it. One went over the net, another hit the post; it was just an ugly round from a usually composed team in the biggest game in a decade.
Worse Loss: Women's Team
Sorry, ladies, but the men weren’t expected to make a tremendously deep run unlike the number one ranked women’s team. The loss wasn’t only more of a surprise, but it was on a bigger stage.
Better Team to Lose To?
Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
Once Ghana hit the final round of 16, they were unlike any other team as far as pressure went. They weren’t just playing for their country; they were playing for their entire continent who hosted the tournament.
Once the final whistle blew, Ghana, Africa and the rest of the world rejoiced in the fact that not for one night a continent that has struggled so much got to celebrate a win over a country that is superior to them. Losing always feels rough, but knowing how much it meant to so many people definitely softens up the blow.
“To Our Friends Around the World, Thank You for Your Support.” That is what was displayed on the banner the Japanese team held up after every match, and boy, did they mean that message.
On July 9, Japan was hit with a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, this after the tsunami disaster that occurred in March, so if any country needed a getaway via sports, Japan was the country. All in all, the USA couldn’t lose to a nicer team that needed more of an uplift, so losing the final game in a dramatic way against Japan is an easier loss to accept.
Better Team to Lose To: Women's Team
Ghana rejoicing in a great win with the rest of Africa is wonderful, but one elimination win can only last so long. Japan winning the trophy will hang around in the books and in the peoples' hearts forever.
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Let’s cut straight to the point. USA was not expected to bring the cup home by any means. Now to the other points:
-If USA won then their match against Ghana, then they would have faced a very beatable Uruguay team and then against the Netherlands, who again, may have been beatable. Then where would America end up? Against Spain, a team they beat just a year before in the CONCACAF Cup. Not saying it was an automatic championship, but it would have been something to watch.
-USA soccer would have been popularized just as it was when the women won their cup in ’99.
-USA- 300,000,000-plus people/ Ghana- 24,000,000-plus people
-The game against Ghana set the record for most watched soccer game in America, so a whole lot of people were starting to gain interest.
On this team, the only goal was to win the World Cup, and they were stopped just short. Being ranked number one in the world certainly carried a number of expectations, and losing at the final stage left the USA with a gold medal and four years to see what they will do next.
Bigger Letdown: Men's Team
I can understand both sides of the argument, but the women ended just one goal short, whereas the men left the World Cup leaving the question, "What would have happened?" Leaving the tournament with a silver medal is better than leaving with nothing but questions and shame.
More Embraced Team?
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Many Americans walked in to the World Cup not even knowing who Tim Howard was and left playing pickup games right after each match ended.
Not only did many people witness their friends and family embrace soccer at first hand, but TV ratings also proved that such a change was made too. The Algeria game set a record that was quickly broken by the Ghana match that set a whopping 9.9 rating.
By the end of Sunday’s game, many Americans could give you a handful of player’s names, something that couldn’t be done prior to the tournament. The final game even surprised ESPN with their ratings, coming out at a 8.6 for the title game.
More Embraced Team: Men's Team
Both teams felt the love from the wonderful nation over the Atlantic, but the men were more embraced from the nation as a whole. Men’s sports are also more likely to be accepted by both men and women rather than women’s sports that can be refused to watch by some stubborn men, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.