U.S. women make their own luck to reach World Cup final

You need a little luck in the World Cup. That’s what you heard from Germany … Germany’s men, anyway, after the World Cup final last year.

Germany’s women, on the other hand, were not so lucky against the USA in the World Cup semifinal tonight. A couple of close officiating decisions went against them. Playing the USA so soon after dragging themselves to a grueling win over France is less than ideal.

So can you take anything away from the U.S. women tonight?

No. Not a damn thing. They earned this.

I joked on Twitter tonight that the USA had the advantage in rest because Germany just played 120 minutes against France, while this U.S. women’s team hasn’t played all tournament. Maybe not in the Ellis era.

They did it with a radical change. We all saw how the USA was playing to this point — even when Abby Wambach wasn’t playing, the team was still playing Abby ball. In this game, they went with two holding mids and one forward, winning the midfield battles rather than relying on their outstanding defense to clean everything up. They suddenly started playing the type of soccer everyone had hoped to see, with dazzling possession that made ESPN’s Kate Markgraf marvel at German defenders being spun in circles.

See Meghan Klingenberg strip the ball away, make a simple move and play calmly to a teammate. See Lauren Holiday win a tackle and play cleanly to a teammate. See Carli Lloyd come up with the ball and race up the field. See Alex Morgan take a sharp pass from Tobin Heath and force a stellar save from Nadine Angerer. It was marvelous.

So yeah — Julie Johnston could’ve and probably should’ve seen red for the foul that led to the penalty kick. Celia Sasic took a very un-German-like penalty kick, perhaps because Hope Solo psyched her out like a poker player staring down someone trying to bluff with a pair of 3s. And Alex Morgan launched herself over the top of the box and drew contact along the way to draw a dubious penalty kick for the first U.S. goal.

But consider this:

– Hope Solo didn’t make a save after the eighth minute. Germany’s offense was so rattled by the U.S. defense’s mastery and Morgan Brian’s shrewd midfield destruction that a couple of people in the third row end-zone seating may have touched the ball more than Solo.

– The USA would’ve been up 2-0 at the half if not for Angerer’s brilliance.

– The second U.S. goal was brilliant, even if it came against a clearly downtrodden German defense.

A 1-0 deficit shouldn’t have deflated Germany so badly. They were being outplayed by France but came back and won it. In this game, though, Germany wasn’t even close to finding its way. After the goal, they looked like Michael Scott following GPS directions into a lake.

The knockout draw has favored the USA, sure. The group stage didn’t. The USA may have looked sluggish and pedestrian in winning the Group of Death, but they had to beat three legit opponents. They weren’t merrily blasting 10 goals past Ivory Coast to fine-tune their offense.

On the Keeper Notes podcast a week ago, I said it’d be a shame in a way if the USA somehow powered its way past to the World Cup final playing the way it was — stubbornly sticking with Wambach as its offensive centerpiece, sticking with Holiday as a miscast lone defensive midfielder, playing unimaginative soccer as if they were pounding their way through some 2004 Victory Tour friendly rather than building up to face teams that had caught up, tactically and technically. What would we learn as a soccer nation if we could win the World Cup doing things in such backwards fashion?

After the China game, where Ellis was forced to change things up, I didn’t feel quite so strongly about it.

Now? I don’t know how they suddenly changed gears, changed personnel and changed styles, but they did it. And they deserve it.

If you had told me a week ago the USA would beat Germany 2-0 in the semifinals, I would’ve said it must have been all luck. Instead, it was a little luck. And a lot good, inspiring soccer.

This result is big for U.S. women’s soccer. The way they did it was even bigger. And it’s reasonable to think they can do it again and regain the World Cup after 16 years.

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