Viewpoint: The Women’s Soccer Game That Broke This Canadian’s Heart

When Canada’s Christine Sinclair scored the first goal of the game in the first half against not only Canada’s biggest rivals, but also the best team in women’s soccer, I suddenly found myself caring about the sport.

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David Moir / Reuters

Canada's goalkeeper Erin McLeod, left, looks at the ball shot by USA's Alex Morgan to win the women's semi final soccer match at the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford in Manchester, Aug. 6, 2012.

Until last night, I’ve never particularly cared about a soccer match. And, to be perfectly honest, I almost didn’t watch the women’s Olympic semi-final between the USA and Canada, despite having an acquaintance on Team Canada and being Canadian myself. (That, right there, is full disclosure. Yes, I’m clearly biased.)

Why bother, I thought before the game started. The Americans are just too good.

I changed my mind shortly after kick-off and turned the game on, unable to resist. And when Canada’s Christine Sinclair scored the first goal of the game in the first half against not only Canada’s biggest rivals, but also the best team in women’s soccer, I suddenly found myself caring about the sport. And when she kept on scoring throughout the game, earning a hat-trick, I found myself really, really caring.

And, yet, every time the Americans leveled the score – largely thanks to some truly amazing shots by Megan Rapinoe – that old pessimistic feeling flooded me. It’s over, I’d think. Only to be proved wrong again. And then again. It was exhilarating and by the time the game went into overtime with the board reading 3-3, I was shouting for victory.

But it was not to be. The last minute of overtime saw the excellent U.S. forward Alex Morgan nail a header straight into the Canadian goal. The final score of an undeniably tense game was 4-3, sending the U.S. to the finals for their third consecutive Olympics.

That’s not to say it was an equal game. There’s no denying that there were questionable calls in favor of the U.S. by the Norwegian referee, Christiana Pedersen. Among other things, the decision to award the U.S. a free kick because Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod held the ball for more than six seconds was a blow. Yes, it’s technically against the rules, but it’s consistently done and it’s unheard of to penalize a team for it. (Even U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage said it was a call she had “never seen before.”) That kick led to a penalty shot for the U.S., which led to a goal. That goal took the game into overtime where the U.S. conquered.

After the game Sinclair told reporters, “We feel like we didn’t lose, we feel like it was taken away from us.” That feeling was echoed, repeatedly, by commentators, spectators, coaches and me, heart-broken, sitting in my living room.

Sure, every player and sports fan knows that bad calls and misguided refs are an unfortunate and undeniable part of the game. But Canada, as they often are when competing against the U.S., were the underdogs — and there’s something particularly unjust about suspect calls against the little guy. Last night, Canada came ready to win and throughout the entire game, save for that last minute, we were either leading or tied. Would Team Canada have won if there had been a different referee? It’s impossible to know and, anyway, it doesn’t really matter.

While I respectfully disagree with my colleague Sean Gregory, who covered the game from Manchester and wrote that the match “got the ending it so deserved,” I do know that the game was bigger than the final score. Anyone who watched can agree they saw an amazing game. It’s hard to recall the last time that women’s soccer was so meaningful, so celebrated, so cared about, on either side of the border. And now the U.S. has another chance for a gold medal. Canada has a chance for the bronze, a new hero in Christine Sinclair and a game they can be proud of. And I can be certain that I’ll be caring about soccer from now on.

5 comments
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djshiva
djshiva

I'm an American and a new fan of Christine Sinclair.  Canada was impressive and played with heart.  I NEVER thought this game was a given for the US.  Not with playing like that from the Canadian team.  

I can't wait to see more matchups with your team, and I hope them to be less controversial, so the eye is on the amazing players from both sides, instead of referees.  

Maureen Ronau
Maureen Ronau

A new fan to soccer would not understand the nuances of the game.  The Canadian goalie was consistently slow to get rid of the ball (she has 6 sec) and that time she held it for 20 sec. Perhaps she had already been warned by the ref.  On the other hand, Tancreedi should have been sent off in the game.  After her yellow card, she committed numerous fouls.  At any point, the ref could have sent her off for excessive fouling, and then Canada could have played a man down.  Stop whining, Canada.

NicHautamaki
NicHautamaki

as a class 3 referee myself, I am qualified to comment on this case. Awarding an indirect free kick for delay of game is the rule as written. However it is extremely unusual, in a five year career myself I had never done it. However, whether it was reasonable or not in this case depends a lot upon how much she warned the keeper that this call would be made. If the keeper was warned explicitly that she would be giving up a free kick if she didn't play the ball, the keeper has no right to complain when it happened. However judging from the outrage ode the players on the field I think the referee did not warn her row order wise make it clear. Not the referee is obligated to do so of course, but it would be more reasonable if she had. Personally when I encountered these situations, which are extremely common in competitive football, I would generally warn the goalkeeper very clearly that her behavior would not be tolerated, and would also inform both teams that additional extra time would be added anyway to compensate for time wasted by the leading team.

Liana Sanche
Liana Sanche

Although the ref had the right to call a delay of game penalty, the penalty that followed was anything but fair.  If you know anything about soccer, you know that there is a difference between ball to hand and hand to ball.  This was clearly a case of ball to hand.  The Canadian player did NOT move her hand to the ball, there was no advantage, and she was shielding her face.  Ball to hand should NOT be called a penalty. 

Tennis Newz
Tennis Newz

Good thing you have someone who's not a new fan of soccer to expalain it to you.  The delay of game penalty is never called.  And I mean never.  Not just occationally, or infrequently.  Litererally never.  I've seen a lot of yellow cards given to goalies for delaying play.  That's reasonably common.  But this is the first time in over 20 years of watching the sport that I've ever seen this called. Saying it's beyond rare would be a gross understatement. 

With how the US team was able to come back after the previous goals it doesn't necessarily mean that the outcome was decided by this call because there was enough time for them to still tie the game up without it.  So I can see saying that the call may not have be the reason behind the game going the way it did.  But don't even bother trying to say the call was reasonable.  If you're watched any amount of soccer and not just read that there's something call a 6 second rule, I think you'd be saying something very different.  In the end what actually lost the game for Canada was a bit of panicking and two failed clearing attempts by defenders in the last minute of extra time.  But that doesn't make the referee's decision on the delay call any less unreasonable.

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