Here's the thing about USA Women's Soccer: Sooner or later they deliver the goods.
Up until yesterday the theme of the USWNT had been that they were playing below their immense potential and that they were bound to pay for it once they ran into a team that was their match in terms of talent. That the USA was disorganized, that their coach Jill Ellis wasn't making the right lineups or alignments, and that a team with sound strategic play would fully expose them in either the semis or the finals.
In short, everyone was saying Germany would beat us. As the insufferable Alexi Lalas (seriously this pretentious lanky ginger is SUCH a pain in the butt, can we PLEASE get Mia Hamm or Julie Foudy on the desk instead?) correctly stated after the China match, "The World Cup begins now." We all knew this game was coming.
The #1 team in the world (Germany) against the #2 (USA)? The best offense in the tournament against the best defense? Bond Villainess Nadine Angerer vs Actual Bad Person Hope Solo? German unstoppable attack vs USA unbreakable backline? YES PLEASE. This is not I game to be enjoyed alone in my living room watching Fox Sports Go on my laptop (which had been my World Cup thus far). This requires full fanboy immersion.
So I loaded up my birdcrap-covered Subaru Outback and off I went to The Man Cave in Studio City, one of the viewing pads of the American Outlaws, the less violent, more American version of European football hooligans. Here's the As-It-Happened Breakdown of my foray into US Soccer hysteria:
3:10- Arrive at the Cave. I'm way too early, there are about three people there. However, this allows me to secure prime viewing real estate. I grab a table right in the middle. Gotta be in the mash pit if this thing blows up. Bar is interesting, has all the classic local sports paraphernalia (Lakers, Dodgers, etc) but features a lot of Michigan gear including a Charles Woodson jersey and a jersey that has all the Fab Five's names on it. Owner has got to be a Wolverine.
3:20- Fans starting to trickle in. They all know each other from the earlier tournament games. Quickly occurs to me that I'm gonna be the rookie of the group, which I suppose makes me the closest thing to a bandwagoner in attendance. On the other hand, I'm actually writing about this so suck it!
3:30- I order an Allagash White because I want to win. In addition to it being a Maine beer and I gotta represent, I drank strictly Allagash throughout the Patriots playoff run and if the USA crashes out it's not gonna be because I didn't do my part.
3:40- Place is filling up. A guy goes around hanging USA flags on all the walls. A waitress comes over and compliments him on giving the place a little more decoration. He just nods grimly as if it's a matter of life and death that he's doing this. Some men hang flags, some drink Allagash.
3:45- I'm joined at my table by two teens named Ashley and Javier. Both wearing USA jerseys. Javier is bitter because he lost a bet that France would knock off Germany in the quarterfinals. Brutal. France totally outplayed Germany but blew the lead on an unlucky handball penalty and then lost in a shootout. I ask his punishment and he sadly tells me he has to buy and wear an Alex Morgan jersey. I can't figure out for the life of me how this is a punishment.
3:50- Place is now packed. Predictions being tossed out. Ashley says 2-1 US. Javier says 1-0 Germany (wow screw you Javier!). A couple others say US in a shootout. I go with 1-1, USA wins in an epic shootout.
3:53- Lineup announced. Whoa. USA going 4-5-1, with three central midfielders, Lloyd, Holliday, and Brian all playing together. Alex Morgan will be the lone striker. Very weird. Crowd doesn't like it. Seems like the US is planning to play defensive.
3:55- National anthem plays. Half the crowd stands, everyone sings. On TV there is a sellout crowd FINALLY. Overwhelmingly US, because y'know, German fans have to cross an ocean.
4:00- KICKOFF!!! (from now on we revert to game times)
3' -- Both teams in attack mode, up and down the pitch. Germany gets a corner and the resulting header goes over the bar. A dude in a red shirt who looks like Elliot Schwartz from Breaking Bad rushes in to join us at our table, furious that he missed kickoff. He's loud.
7' -- CRAP! USA gets a corner and Julie Johnston (super defender/my future wife/screw you Zach Ertz) gets a head to it but Bond villainess Angerer saves it brilliantly. Bar groans.
14' -- CRAP CRAP CRAPPITY CRAP! Alex Morgan gets free in the box and goes one-on-one with the goalkeeper but Angerer makes another big time save. Bar was all ready to explode and then all is facepalms and groans. Elliot Schwartz is upset.
19' -- USA looks great, best they've played in a half so far, including against China. Game crowd is really loud, 'USA' chants can be heard from the telecast.
22' -- Nearly a handball in the box against Germany, not called. Bar is enraged, then they show the replay and it wasn't. Everyone chuckles at their own bias; we were SURE it was a handball in realtime.
29' -- OOF! NASTY collision between Morgan Brian and Alexandrea Popp. Heads knocked together badly going for a header. Both down for the count.
Popp is bleeding from her head. Pretty badly actually, she's gotta be coming out. Brian still down. What's the concussion policy in FIFA? I'm sure it blows, like everything in FIFA.
Brian is up, looks pretty shaky. Popp getting bandaged up.
They're both gonna stay in??? Wow. Just wow. I was sure both would be taken out. Those are two badass b#@%es right there.
34' -- Yellow card on Germany. Rapinoe gets grabbed while making a run. Elliot Schwartz approves.
40' -- ARGH! C'MON! USA gets three corners in a row, pounding it in the box but can't stick it in the net. They're hammering the Germans, but the score is still 0-0. Angerer really is good, she's been keeping them in this thing.
43' -- Morgan gets another breakaway but is at a bad angle and misses wide. Both Ashley and Elliot Schwartz want Sydney Leroux to replace her in the second half.
HALFTIME -- USA is the better team for the first 45 minutes. Controlled possession, attacked well, got some real good looks. But only goals count as points in soccer (Hi I'm Christian, your local soccer expert) and it just takes one play to swing this game away from them. I get another Allagash. Flag Guy is now announcing a raffle for the prize of...an Alex Morgan jersey!!! This is your moment Javier! To his credit, he runs right up and buys the first ticket. The Javiers pay their debts.
Credit Flag Guy, there are a TON of flags up in this place. One is covering the Charles Woodson jersey. Flag Guy must be a Buckeye.
Debate begins over who the best player on the USWNT is. Javier says Abby Wambach, taking the historical approach, Ashley says Carli Lloyd, I go with Megan Rapinoe. We all agree however that Julie Johnston is the best player in this tournament for the US. The girls in our group all call her JJ. I explain to them that JJ and I are getting married. Fortunately before I have to back up this statement, the 2nd half begins.
48' -- USA gets a corner but Lloyd's header just barely goes wide. USA right back where it started. On the attack.
50' -- Morgan gets a good chance on a run but her cross goes too far and out of bounds. She's had some opportunities but blown them. But she really is attracting a lot of attention from the Germany defense.
56' -- Morgan gets called for a foul trying to push forward on the counterattack. Nationwide may be on her side but Elliot Schwartz is not. Things look a little more even here. Germany is finding its groove offensively.
59' -- NOOOOOOO!!!!! Yellow card on Julie Johnston in the box. Penalty to Germany. Johnston mistimed a touch in a ball and it went right to Popp, who blew past her towards the goal. Johnston instinctively grabbed her shoulder from behind. Clear penalty. JJ looks like she's gonna cry. Literally the first mistake she's made all tournament. Bar is in shock.
This is what blows about soccer. You can kick ass for 6 games and one mistake can send your team home.
Sasic, the German star, is gonna take it. She's got 5 goals in the tournament already, including the penalty against France in the quarterfinals. By the way Germany has never missed a penalty kick in the Women's World Cup, either in game time or a shootout. 17 for 17. That's crazy. So now we get to sit and watch our tournament hopes go up in smoke off just one-
AAAAAHHHH SHE MISSED IT!!!! HOLY M@#$%&%$#G S#@T!!!! SHE MISSED!!!
Bedlam in The Man Cave. Everyone going nuts. Me and Elliot Schwartz high five like four times in a row. Flag Guy is up on his chair. This one HUGE guy who looks like Evander Holyfield is doing the Dikembe Mutumbo finger wag. Which doesn't really make sense because Solo didn't block it, but who cares?
I feel like a genius for coming to this thing. This is totally awesome.
On TV, the US team is going nuts. JJ actually is crying now. Germans look stunned. I don't blame them, that's a huge swing. By the way, Solo dove the wrong way. Would have been an easy goal but Sasic put it just left of the post. We've got to have them now, right?
64' -- USA on the attack. Gets a corner but goes wide. They're clearly fired up, but still not getting a clear look at the net.
69' -- PENALTY!!! Alex Morgan taken down in the box by German defenders. Yellow card and now the US is gonna have a kick.
Ooooh that's a rough call. Definitely a foul but replay showed it WASN'T in the box. Just outside the line. Tough call to make though, especially without replay. Morgan got knocked down while the BALL was in the box and she fell down inside the box so it looked like a penalty, but she was hit before she crossed the line. Germans arguing while US get set up. It's got to be Carli Lloyd to take this right?
It IS Lloyd. She's been the go-to the last two games, scoring the PK against Colombia and the header against China.
GOAL!!!!! She nails it into the upper right. GREAT kick.
Man Cave celebrates. Me and Elliot Schwartz embrace. Got the sense that we have them now. Germany hasn't really had any dangerous attacks and now we've got the lead. But then again, we felt that way about Japan 4 years ago...I need another Allagash.
73' -- Tobin Heath jumps on a German and gives them a dangerous free kick. Aw crap. But it sails way over the crossbar. For a team that has been so dominant offensively, Germany really doesn't look that good on attack.
75' -- Kelly O'Hara subs in for Heath. Bar likes the move. O'Hara is a high energy player and can help wear the Germans down. Heath is skilled but a bit on the slow side for a midfielder.
78' -- Germany misses badly again. Wow, they really don't have anything.
79' -- Rapinoe replaced by...WAMBACH??? Oh man that doesn't make any sense. Love Abby but she's a slow striker and we're just trying to kill the clock. We're losing a lot of defense there, I have no clue why Ellis just made that sub. Elliot Schwartz is confused as well. Javier is happy. Javier, go double check your raffle number.
81' -- Germany misses another long shot. What are they thinking about? No way are they gonna beat Solo from out there.
84' -- GOAL USA!!!! O'HARA!!! Lloyd made an awesome cut into the box, slashed through, and hit O'Hara with a pass that she just tipped into the goal past Angerer. This game is ovah.
Man Cave in fullblown celebration mode. I high five Holyfield while Elliot Schwartz grabs me in a bear hug. Yo Elliot, I'm trying to have my moment with Evander here. Ashley is up on her chair hollering. Ashley, you win this round for saying Lloyd was the best player on the US. She's been HUGE these last three games.
87' -- Another bad attack by Germany goes wide. THIS is the #1 team in the world?
90' -- 3 minutes of stoppage time added on. Solo grabs a Germany corner out of the air. Besides the missed penalty, Germany really has never threatened. I can't remember the last time Solo had to make a big save in this tourney. Our backline is an all-timer. Haven't been scored on in over 520 minutes of game play.
FINAL WHISTLE! USA wins 2-0. Bar celebrates. High fives and hugs all around. Chants of "I Believe That We Just Won" ring out. I finish my Allagash. You're welcome America.
Flag guy announces the winner of the raffle. Sadly it's not Javier. Sorry dude, looks like you're gonna have to buy that thing retail. I bid my bar companions farewell and head off to the Outback (Subaru that is). It's been quite the afternoon.
Damn good game by the US. They were CLEARLY the better team. Carli Lloyd's a champ, our defense has more clean sheets than a Courtyard Marriott, and we finally look like a team that's going to win the World Cup. People will probably talk about that penalty on Morgan but Germany had their own chance and blew it. The US was the better side and deserved the win.
So that wraps up my American Outlaw experience. Worth every penny, even though I discovered that I had to pay $10 for parking in the underground lot (Boooo! You Germans!). I highly recommend checking it out on Sunday for the Final. I'm sure it'll be even crazier, especially if we play Japan. But for now, Go Go USA!