Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hell hath no fury like a goalie scorned

Why should female athletes be any different? The backstory going into this past Thursday: US Women's soccer team goalkeeper Hope Solo had been playing extremely well during the current World Cup, single-handedly preserving a tie against North Korea and providing some much-needed stability and calm to a US defense that has, at times, shown a remarkable lack of composure. In addition, the US was coming off their best performance of the tournament, a 3-0 domination of an excellent England team during the quarterfinals. Thursday's semifinal match paired the US against Brazil. For those of you not familiar with soccer, Brazil has completely dominated the sport on the men's side over the past fifty or so years, winning five of the last thirteen World Cups, and consistently playing the best overall soccer of any country, featuring an aggressive but extremely elegant and crowd-pleasing style. Up until the last eight years, the Brazilian women were serviceable at best... but man, they've really turned on the jets since then, progressing by leaps and bounds. This year, they've been absolutely phenomenal, playing like the soccer equivalent of this year's New England Patriots. In other words, they've not only won their matches, but looked well-nigh unbeatable in the process and, much like their male counterparts, have won the adoration of all the bandwagon f*ckheads. For the record, I like Brazilians, but absolutely loathe their soccer team; I'm bitter, remember?

Anyhoo, US women's coach Greg "Lenny" Ryan decided to pull Hope Solo in favour of Briana Scurry for the match against Brazil. Scurry was, at one time, an outstanding goalkeeper, quite possibly the best the US has ever produced... but she's entering her late thirties, and had received no playing time over the past few months (rust! rust!). Why the switch, then? Coming into Thursday's match, Scurry was undefeated against Brazil. Unfortunately, she hadn't faced the Brazilian squad since 2004 and, as mentioned previously, Brazil has improved dramatically since then. Coach Lenny's move was not only exorbitantly idiotic, but also smacked of panic, and so gave the Brazilian squad an enormous shot of confidence and momentum going into the game. In addition, it completely disrupted the US team's defensive alignment and chemistry -- Solo was an attacking midfielder back in high school, so she's comfortable receiving passes from overwhelmed defenders; Scurry, on the other hand, has always had enormous trouble with her possession game, so as an outlet, she's a major liability. But hey, coach Lenny played his idiotic hunch, and Solo was benched for an aging, way-past-her-prime, rusty goalkeeper... smooth move, Ex-Lax!

The result of coach Lenny's blunder was entirely too predictable: Brazil scored their first goal on a defensive miscommunication that led to a US defender heading the ball into her own net while Scurry did an uncanny impersonation of Venus de Milo; the second goal was the result of a blazing run by Marta, the breakout star of the tournament, but the shot itself could have/should have been stopped (Scurry's former teammate-cum-homer announcer Julie Foudy even admitted this); a few minutes later, US defender Shannon Boxx was sent off thanks to an egregious error by the referee (Brazil ALWAYS gets these ridiculous calls -- is it any wonder I detest them?), and the rout was on; the third goal was not Scurry's fault at all, but the fourth goal, again coming after an astounding series of moves by Marta, was also preventable -- Scurry even got a piece of the ball, but not enough to prevent it from dribbling in. And so, both Solo and Scurry were placed in extremely unfair positions by coach Lenny and his moronic tactics, and now it's on to the meaningless third-place game. I won't take the time to address coach Lenny's non-existent tactical adjustments following Boxx's expulsion, because there just isn't enough cyberspace to store my contemptuous venom... but if coach Lenny is retained beyond this tournament, the US soccer governing bodies shan't be receiving invitations to join MENSA anytime soon.

The real fireworks came after the game, when a downcast Solo was walking past a group of reporters. She was asked a question, and when a US press officer practically forbade her from answering... MEOW!

Ah, how I love fiery girls with arching eyebrows... Miz Solo just skyrocketed into the top ten of the "Future Mrs. Clevelander" charts. Unlucky her!

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