The Closing Ceremony for the 2012 Olympics was about thanking London for its hospitality, displaying the world’s best competitors, and celebrating the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. While watching the Closing Ceremony a week ago, all I could think about though was my favorite USA team to watch throughout the Olympics, the USA Women’s Soccer Team. To be honest, I’m a sucker for a great sports story. I love when a group of athletes can come together and fight for a common goal with class, dignity, and respect. This particular USA Women’s Soccer Team has a unique identity that I haven’t seen in many teams. They have determination and resiliency that not a lot of teams have, and this is one of the main reasons why they won the gold medal.
Their amazing journey all began in Germany last summer. Team USA, led by Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, and Alex Morgan had to fight to even qualify for the 2011 World Cup. Morgan made her Team USA debut in March 2010 against Mexico as a substitute in a World Cup qualifier, and she scored the game-winning goal against Italy in November to send Team USA to the World Cup. Fast forward to July 2011 when Team USA faced Japan in the World Cup Final. Japan is a multi-talented team, but Team USA came in as the favorites, especially because of all the media attention they had received during the World Cup. After fierce competition throughout the World Cup Final, regulation ended with a score of 1-1. After overtime, the score was still even, now at 2-2. The game came down to penalty kicks, which is always a tense, stressful situation to be in, especially when the World Cup title is on the line. However, in the World Cup quarterfinals against Brazil, Team USA also went to penalty kicks and reigned victorious, which was a turning point for the national support of this team. With Solo in the goal and Wambach and Morgan as two of the designated kickers, it appeared as if Team USA still had a shot to win. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Team USA lost in penalty kicks 3-1. Japan took home the 2011 World Cup title, and it was a much deserved and emotional victory, especially since the earthquake and tsunami had hit Japan in March. Starting right after the last whistle in the World Cup Final to the 2012 Olympics, Team USA prepared as much as possible to win the gold medal. They used their defeat at the World Cup as motivation. “We’re at a place that I think is solid,” Wambach said before the 2012 Olympics gold medal game. “I think the fact that we lost the World Cup and the way that we did gives us even more passion and desire to go out and perform tomorrow.”
Team USA went on the win their first match of the Olympics against France 4-2. This was one of their most impressive wins of the Olympics. Down 2-0 13 minutes in, Team USA went on to score four unanswered goals to win the match. Morgan’s goal at the 31st minute made the score 2-2 at halftime. Morgan ultimately scored two goals in the victory, Wambach scored one goal, which was her 139th goal in international play, and Carli Lloyd scored the winning goal to make the game 3-2 in the 55th minute. Team USA fought back in the most difficult of circumstances and were able to pull out the win. Their next match was against Colombia, and they ultimate won 3-0 to send themselves to the quarterfinals. Megan Rapinoe scored her first Olympic goal, Wambach added her 140th goal, and Lloyd scored the third goal. They faced North Korea next and won 1-0 on Wambach’s 141st international goal, which also gave them the Group G title. Their next match was against New Zealand, which they ultimately won 2-0, which sent them to the semifinal round. Wambach scored her 142nd international goal (her fourth in four games), and Sydney Leroux scored her first Olympic goal.
Team USA faced Canada in the semifinals, and this proved to be the defining match of their Olympic run. This match was a showcase of two of the best women’s soccer players in the world, Christine Sinclair and Abby Wambach. Sinclair scored the first goal for Canada. Team USA didn’t even the score until the 55th minute off of Rapinoe’s amazing, curling corner kick shot. Sinclair would score again to make the score 2-1, but Rapinoe would answer back again to tie the game at 2-2. Sinclair scored yet again off of a perfectly placed header, which gave her a hat trick and 143 international goals, which put her ahead of Wambach, at the time, on the list of the most international goals scored (Mia Hamm has the most with 158 goals). With the game at 3-2, a controversial hand ball was called inside the penalty box against Canada, so Wambach was awarded a penalty kick in the 80th minute, which she scored on and tied the game at three. Team USA had 27 shots on goal compared to only seven from Canada, but Sinclair’s play was almost too stellar for Team USA to handle. At the end of regulation, the score was still 3-3, so the game went to two overtime periods. In the second overtime, it appeared as if penalty kicks would have to decide this brilliant match. However, Morgan was due for a goal since she hadn’t scored since the first game against France. Three minutes were added on for stoppage time, and with just 30 seconds left in the final overtime period, Morgan headed in the game-winning goal. This goal represented a giant sigh of relief for everyone watching and playing in the game, and it also represented the competitiveness and determination that Team USA had displayed throughout all of the Olympics.
Team USA would take on Japan in the gold medal match, which created a re-match of the emotional 2011 World Cup. “Last time in the World Cup, they got the better of us,” Wambach said before the final match. “I think this time we hope to change that and right that ship for ourselves.” This team has never lacked passion or desire, so this final match was bound to be an unforgettable one. Team USA came out determined to get this win and dominated in the first half of the game. Their passing game was crisp, and Solo looked even more focused than usual, stopping several shot attempts and conducting the defense beautifully. Lloyd, the gold medal hero for Team USA during the 2008 Olympics, became even more of an Olympic hero in this match. She scored Team USA’s first goal off of a perfect cross from Alex Morgan. She would go on to score Team USA’s second goal, which ended up being her second straight Olympic gold medal game-winner. In the second half, Japan showed some more life and put constant pressure on the ball. Their game plan paid off in the 63rd minute when Yuki Ogimi scored Japan’s first goal of the match. However, this goal ended up being their only goal of the game, which was not enough to give them the gold medal. Team USA went on to win the World Cup re-match 2-1, which gave them the gold medal and the redemption that they had been seeking for more than a year.
Team USA’s ability to play through gritty situations and persevere is one of their strongest qualities. Their hard work paid off in their physical conditioning, which was clearly better than any other team as seen in the Canada match and in the gold medal match, which was only three days after the long, grueling Canada match. Team USA was the fittest team in the Olympics, and this played a huge part in their success as well. Wambach said about the second overtime period, “At that point I just kept pounding my chest going ‘Guys, this is only about heart. We’re all tired. All 22 players on the field are tired. It’s about who wants it more. Right here. Right now.’ Today we proved that we did.” This is a team full of hard workers, believers, and some of the best competitors in the world. “It was such a journey. It was so emotional. It was up-and-down and we all did it together. We were such a unit and we leaned on each other when we needed to,” Morgan said when describing the 2012 Olympics. “We ended up on top and I’m so happy. We’re the best in the world right now.”
Morgan is right. They are the best in the world right now. Their miraculous and passionate play during the 2012 Olympics is inspiring. Patriotically, this was a huge win because Team USA was able to gain the redemption they needed. For any sports fan across the country though, this win symbolizes a different type of “American Dream.” Any team with that much determination, camaraderie, and work ethic can accomplish anything. This particular USA women’s soccer team brought women’s soccer back into relevance, and they will forever serve as a model of the perfect team.