FOX Soccer Exclusive
Thrilling finishes not new for USA
Old Trafford was full of tired legs and empty gas tanks. But Alex Morgan just kept on moving, kept on running and kept on trying. After 122 minutes of the most physical, emotionally tiring and pressure-packed soccer match these Olympic Games have seen, Morgan rose to the occasion and reminded everyone why she is considered the next breakout soccer star.
Morgan stood out on an already exceptional day. Canada’s Christine Sinclair scored a hat trick, and made a strong case for being the best player in the world. Morgan’s teammate, Megan Rapinoe, provided her own jaw-dropping performance, scoring two highlight-caliber goals to keep the Americans in the match.
And yet the headlines will rightly be about the indefatigable Morgan. She set up a plethora of chances for her teammates, and kept on working to create the winning goal. And then, she stepped up and scored it herself.
“I’ve been saying the whole time, I don’t care who scores, as long as we freaking score and we win, that’s all that matters,” said Morgan after the match. “I just got my head on it at the end. I didn’t even see it go in.”
Morgan has made a habit of stepping up. Just a year ago, Morgan delivered a game-clinching goal in the World Cup semifinals before notching a goal and assist in the World Cup final loss to Japan.
Yet Morgan had been in a slump. She had failed to score a goal since the USA’s tournament-opening win against France, and her struggles to find the net hit an unwelcome peak in the USA’s quarterfinal win against New Zealand. There, she missed a handful of clear-cut chances that she normally makes.
But she shrugged off that performance. On Monday night, Morgan was her dynamic self yet again, setting up teammates and finding space behind the Canadian defense.
Morgan’s goal will long be remembered by American fans. Canadian fans will have very different memories. The 2015 Women’s World Cup hosts will be chewing over a bitter series of decisions by referee Christina Pedersen that helped spur the USA’s comeback. Even their coach, John Herdman, fumed over the bizarre decisions.
Just five minutes after Sinclair scored her third goal to give the Canadians a 3-2 lead, Pedersen called Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod for taking too long to get rid of the ball after she collected a USA corner kick. The ensuing indirect free kick struck a Canadian player’s arm, setting up a penalty kick that Abby Wambach slotted home to make the score 3-3.
The sequence left the Canadian players stunned, and many fans scratching their heads at a call that is rarely made. The initial reaction to the decision was disbelief because, in general, goalkeepers are usually warned with a yellow card for taking too long. Even US head coach, Pia Sundhage, admitted that she had never seen that call. However, after the match, McLeod revealed that she had been previously warned by Pedersen about holding the ball too long — and the referee might have felt that she had little choice.
If the delay of game call was a head-scratcher, the penalty call that followed was not. The Americans’ free kick actually struck the arms of not one but two Canadian players who had their limbs in the air.
One would hope that the referee’s decisions do not overshadow a competitive match, especially during a high stakes match of this magnitude during the Olympics no less. Herdman has done an outstanding job getting Canada to take its game to a new level, and while the team fell short of reaching the gold medal game, there is no denying that major progress has been made. They still have a shot at a medal of course. Canada will face France in the bronze medal game in Coventry on Thursday before the final.
For the United States, the victory was just the latest in a long line of thrilling, heart-racing finishes. At last year’s World Cup, the USA captured the hearts of Americans across the country with a stirring comeback win against Brazil when Wambach scored on a winning header in the final minute of extra time.
On Monday, the USA did it again. Only this time, it was Morgan who provided the goal to cap another dream finish.
“For some reason, we like to make things dramatic,” Wambach said after the match. “This team doesn’t give up. This is what we’re about. This is what we’ve been working for since we lost to Japan in the World Cup Final.”
Now, the Americans have not only a shot at gold but a chance for redemption against Japan. It won’t be easy to recover from Monday’s marathon finish, but the Americans will have plenty of superstars. Now, the US includes the tireless and irrepressible Alex Morgan, leading the charge.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.