MANCHESTER, England >> “That,” U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd said, “was crazy.”
And it was. Even for a women’s soccer team that has made last-second goals, overtime heroics and nailbiting finishes commonplace, the United States’ 4-3 overtime victory over Canada in the Olympic semifinals Monday was difficult to believe.
Three times the Americans trailed and three times they rallied — the last time with the help of an unusual series of calls from referee Christiana Pedersen.
Goalkeeper Hope Solo gave up more goals to Canada’s Christine Sinclair in 51 minutes than she had against four entire teams in these Olympics — yet it was her sparkling save on Sophie Schmidt in the closing seconds of regulation that sent the game into overtime.
Then, deep in stoppage time, just seconds from having their fate determined by penalty kicks, the U.S. found one last dramatic moment, with Alex Morgan scoring the deciding goal on a header set up by a player who didn’t enter the game until it was more than 100 minutes old.
With the victory, the U.S. moves on to Thursday’s gold-medal game with Japan, where it will have a chance to avenge last summer’s penalty-kick loss in the final of the World Cup.
“All of us in the locker room, we look at each other like, ‘Can you believe that that just happened?’ ” forward Abby Wambach said. “And I just keep saying, ‘You’re damn right I can.’ This is what this team is about. This is what we’ve always been about.
“This team is unwilling to give up no matter what. I don’t know why we want to make this so dramatic. But we do.”
Before the game became dramatic, however, it was on the verge of simply being historic. The U.S. had never failed to reach an Olympic final since women’s soccer joined the Games calendar in 1996, and hadn’t lost to Canada since 2001. Yet both streaks were in danger of ending when Sinclair scored her third goal of the game, her sixth of the tournament, in the 73rd minute.
That set up a bizarre sequence of events that included a rarely called penalty against Canadian keeper Erin McLeod for holding the ball, resulting in an indirect free kick; a hand-ball call against Canadian defender Marie-Eve Nault after the free kick caromed off her arm, resulting in a penalty kick; and finally a game-tying goal by Wambach on the penalty kick.
“Two bizarre decisions,” Canadian Coach John Herdman said. “I’ve never seen a decision like that given.”
McLeod was more direct.
“We feel like we kind of got robbed,” she said.
Still, McLeod had one last chance to preserve the tie. But she couldn’t stop Alex Morgan’s looping header off a curling cross from Heather O’Reilly, who was still on the bench 10 minutes into the overtime.
“I’m still in shock thinking of what just happened,” said Morgan, the 23-year-old from Diamond Bar, Calif., who appears to be ready to follow in the footsteps of Mia Hamm and Wambach as the leader of the U.S. team. “I didn’t even see it go in.”
U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage compared the finish to last summer’s World Cup quarterfinal with Brazil in which Wambach scored the tying goal two minutes into overtime stoppage time, setting up a penalty-kick shootout the U.S. won en route to the final.
“The team refuses to lose and always finds a way to win,” she said. “If you look in their eyes … there is something special with this team. It’s something where they have an extra gear.”
There was the one time that gear slipped a bit – in that World Cup final, where Japan rallied twice, scored the final goal in overtime and won the title on penalties.
“This is an opportunity not for redemption,” Wambach said “but to prove ourselves, to be in a position to take the gold medal because we believe we deserve it.”