Jul 25, 2012; Glasgow, United Kingdom; Rapinoe and Morgan have been key for the Americans in London. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kryger-USA TODAY Sports
Last week, I updated the situation for CONCACAF's teams in both the men's and women's Olympic soccer tournaments. At that point, the U.S. and Canada were both alive on the women's side, while Mexico and Honduras were both alive on the men's side. At this point, half of the teams in the confederation are alive in the hunt for a gold medal, as the U.S. beat Canada 4-3 in a controversial (for Canada) thriller (for the U.S.). Seriously, it was one of the most exciting games you'll ever see, and if the final today between the U.S. and Japan (11:45 pm PDT, NBC Sports Network) is half as exciting, it will be a great game indeed. Meanwhile, Mexico beat Japan 3-1 in the semifinals to play for the gold medal against Brazil Saturday.
The women's gold medal match is being billed as a revenge match for the USWNT following Japan's win last summer over the Americans in the World Cup final. Certainly, the similarities in the run up to the finals are uncanny: the U.S. entering as a favorite, albeit an imperfect favorite; the Americans winning a knockout match before the final in injury time of added extra time on a cross and headed goal; Japan playing good soccer, but largely flying under the radar. Considering the fact that the World Cup final went to penalties, and that both teams have shown their defenses are not impenetrable at the Olympics, means we could see another high scoring match between two very evenly matched teams.As a result, it is unclear if this match has a favorite. FIFA player of the year Homare Sawa is not at 100 percent after suffering from vertigo for much of the past year, but her teammates have stepped into the breach. The fact that seven of the players on Japan's squad are teammates for the same club, INAC Kobe Leonessa, surely helps team chemistry, and we've seen that national teams that are dominated by a single club have performed very well in recent years.
For the Americans, the pressure is certainly on to avenge last year's loss. The emergence of Alex Morgan as a true star means the scoring burden has been lifted from Abby Wambach, while Megan Rapinoe has become perhaps the most important player on the team, as her energy and insistence to keep pushing until the final whistle against Canada (not to mention her two goals, both remarkable) spurred the Americans to victory. The frailty with this team has to be in defense, however. Giving up a hat trick in a semifinal is usually a surefire way to booking a team's ticket home, and opening the tournament with a 2-0 deficit against France, while not a bad team, means the defense can be unlocked. With Japan's tendency to hold onto the ball and dictate the game, the Americans' defense will be put to the test early and often. The hope for the U.S. is that they can step up to the pressure and score at least one more goal than their opponent.
One factor that should work in the United States' favor is that they are two-time defending champions in the Olympics. The era of American dominance over all but a couple of teams is long gone, but the USWNT certainly have the talent and experience to get the win and lock up the gold once more.
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