I'll say some non-spoilerish things here in the first paragraph, in case it matters. Yesterday I spoke to the entertainment value of women's soccer compared to men's, noting that the women had the skills, but that their game was slower and that mattered from an entertainment standpoint. Today's game offered a clue to a flaw in my argument. (Gonna get spoilerish now.)
The Brazilian women have a reputation for rough play, and the strategy for the U.S. seemed to be to take them on at their own game. The problem was, the U.S. didn't have but one game: play physical, boring soccer. Brazil, meanwhile, while showing they were capable of physical play, had other dimensions to their game. In fact, they were so good, so "Brazilian," in their individual flair, that questions about the speed of the women's game seemed pointless. OK, so Marta's first goal, which was "blasted" into the near corner, wasn't really all that hard of a shot, but the skills that got her to the place where she took the goal were terrific and a joy to see, no matter which team I was rooting for. And while the second yellow card that saw the expulsion of Shannon Boxx was a truly bad call, it's hard to feel sorry for a team playing "physical" (i.e. dirty) soccer when they lose a player, no matter how bad the call was.
Of course, all anyone wants to talk about is Coach Ryan's decision to replace in-form keeper Hope Solo with the rusty veteran Briana Scurry. To say it didn't work out is an understatement. The first Brazilian goal was an own-goal that looked to many spectators to be caused by a lack of communication in the back by the U.S. (something the goalkeeper is supposed to be in charge of, something that might be a little creaky if your keeper hadn't played for a few months). The second Brazilian goal was well-taken by Marta, and a deflection made it even more difficult for Scurry to stop, but in the end, the sight of Scurry on the ground as the ball rolled through her fingertips into goal was deflating. Scurry couldn't really be faulted for the two short-handed second-half goals, but by then, the damage was done.
Much of this is of interest only to fans of the U.S. team, which got the reality check they've managed to avoid for so long. For fans of the international game ... not just women's soccer, but all soccer ... one thing stands out, and I say this understanding that soccer is a team sport and Brazil has many fine players. Marta is ungodly. She's called the best women's player in the world, and if you didn't believe that before today's game, you'll believe it now. She's only 21, so she's got a long way to go before she even reaches her peak. (Comparisons are made to her countryman Ronaldinho, but a better match would be Argentine Lionel Messi, another brilliant and exciting player who, at 20, is much closer to Marta's age than the comparitively long-in-the-tooth Ronaldinho at 27.) Marta's second goal is already being called the greatest goal in the history of the Women's World Cup, and without looking at every goal from the past, I can only say that it has to be a candidate. Just as important, Marta's goal showed the kind of individual brilliance we've come to expect from Brazilian soccer. And that's just the antidote to donkeys like me who worry that the women's game doesn't have the entertainment value the men can offer.
There will definitely be a video link here to Marta's truly sick goal, as soon as one shows up.