This morning I woke up at 1:50am PST (3:50am my time), but some time in the afternoon China time. The U.S. Women's National Team was facing off against 3rd-ranked Sweden in a must-win game for both teams. Once again, I was a nervous wreck. I watched the game on mute in the dark because Rob as asleep (mostly) next to me in our hotel room. At one point he woke up and asked if I could make the tv darker (maybe he wasn't fully awake), so I offered him a towel to put over his head. He accepted.
The game started out terribly. I believe the U.S. gave up 5 corner kicks in the first five minutes. I've never seen that happen in a soccer game before. The defense was unorganized. The midfield couldn't hold onto the ball. Finally the field opened up a bit, although throughout the first half the U.S. midfield looked a bit too bunched together. They weren't creating passing opportunities for each other, which led to a few more turnovers than necessary.
Then in the 21st minute, defender Cat Whitehill let a free kick rip from midfield. Literally. From midfield. Sweden's goalkeeper had to punch the ball out of bounds to prevent a goal. I started to get a little optimistic. If the U.S. could almost score from midfield, surely they could win. Meanwhile the Swedes' goalkeeper was having a terrible time handling the ball. She was stopped shots, but the ball would regularly bounce out of her hands. That's no way to win a game against an evenly matched team.
Less than 15 minutes later, the Swedes' goalkeeper mishandled the ball again, racing off her line only to let the ball go bouncing past her. I believe it was midfielder Lori Chalupny (going off 2:30am memories here) who was alone in the box with a Swede defender. The defender necessarily pulled Chalupny to the ground to prevent an easy goal. The U.S. had a PK. Abby Wambach took the shot and brilliantly psyched out the goalkeeper -- lining her hips up as if she was shooting right but then nailing a shot to the low left. The goalkeeper was long gone in the other direction.
As the second half started with the U.S. up a goal, I figured out why the U.S. midfield had been so unstructured in the first half. Shannon Boxx didn't start. When the U.S. plays 4-3-3 (their typical formation of late), Boxx is usually the back midfielder of the three, keeping the other two spread in front of her and organized as a unit. I can't even remember the last major game in which she didn't start. Boxx's presence to start the second half made an enormous difference. The U.S. was winning nearly all the 50-50 balls. They were regularly stealing balls in the midfield from Sweden. They had good passing series to allow multiple shots on goal. The team just looked better in every aspect, especially confidence. Starting the second half up a goal probably helped a lot too.
About ten minutes into the second half, Wambach found herself alone with two defenders not far from Sweden's goal. She collected a pass with her chest, knocking it to her feet and sending off a shot all in one move. The ball raced past the goalkeeper and into the net. Wambach now has three of the U.S.'s four goals in the World Cup to date. It was one of the best Women's World Cup goals I've ever seen.
Finally the adrenaline started to fade in my body as the U.S.'s lead looked secure and my eyelids started drooping. Coach Ryan subbed in Heather O'Reilly for Lindsey Tarpley at the forward position, which is exactly the type of move you want to see. O'Reilly is a great and aggressive goal scorer, and she's often a starter, so her entry into the game for the playmaker Tarpley meant that Ryan was looking to add fresh legs and a third goal. While the game ended 2-0, the U.S. dominated possession for the remaining minutes. Spcial kudos go to Hope Solo, the U.S. goalkeeper, who had a rough game against North Korea, but bounced back to be flawless today.
I found myself feeling bad for Sweden when the final whistle blew. They've never had two consecutive World Cup games without a win. They were the last World Cup's runners-up. Now they can't advance unless the U.S. loses big to Nigeria. Not likely. But then again, you never know. The U.S. just needs a tie against Nigeria though to make it to the quarterfinals. So I am feeling a ton of relief right now.
In other news, I got up at 8am (after going back to bed a little before 4am) to get ready and meet Roxanna and her sister Carol at a spa in Napa. Then we met up with two of Roxanna's best friends from college and surprised Roxanna with a little bridal shower-esque lunch at a local restaurant, Celadon. Roxanna was totally surprised and we had a really wonderful meal. (Last night we ate at Angele which was also fantastic.) Now it's off to the wedding rehearsal and then rehearsal dinner in about 30 minutes. I'm glad we won't be out too late because it's another early to rise day tomorrow to get our hair and make-up done!!