New England Soccer Today

Good as Gold

The U.S. Women’s National Team exacted revenge and defeated Japan 2-1 in the gold medal match of the 2012 London Olympic Games on Thursday at Wembley Stadium. The victory, which marks the U.S.’ fourth gold medal in women’s soccer, comes 389 days after the U.S.’ penalty kick loss to the Japanese in last year’s World Cup Final.

Carli Lloyd, whose penalty kick sailed high over the crossbar against Japan last summer, scored twice to catapult the U.S. to victory. She finished a feed from Alex Morgan in the first half, then buried an individual effort in the second half. Japan’s Yuki Ogimi cut the deficit to one midway through the second half, though the U.S. was able to weather a late rally and clinch the victory.

For many on the U.S. team, this result allows for some closure. Heather Mitts, 34, Shannon Boxx, 35, and Christine Rampone, 37, are all likely to hang up their cleats and retire on top. This gold medal victory, while certainly a jubilant one for the U.S., is reminiscent of the 2004 gold medal win in Athens which led to the retirements of Mia Hamm, Joy Fawcett, Brandy Chastain, and Julie Foudy.

But just over a year after falling in heartbreaking fashion to Japan in the final, the U.S. team, particularly the older veterans, were looking to go out in style. Rampone and Boxx both got the starting nods in central defense and central midfield respectively, and put forward one of the best performances in women’s soccer history.

Boxx was an instrument in helping the U.S. transition from defense to offense. While she stayed anchored in defensive midfield, Lloyd had the freedom to join into the attack. In the eighth minute, Tobin Heath played a pass to Alex Morgan in the penalty area, who turned and chipped it to the center of the box for Lloyd. The 30-year-old  Rutgers product made a run out of midfield and into six-yard box to nod the ball into the net with a diving header.

Japan tried to retaliate almost immediately after allowing the early goal. In the 17th minute, Nahomi Kawasumi got the ball in the penalty area and took a point-blank shot in an attempt to equalize. The shot flew past Hope Solo, though Rampone prevented it from going any further by stretching out her foot to deflected the ball away from the open net.

In the immediate aftermath of Rampone’s clearance, Homare Sawa sent the ball into the penalty area for Yuki Ogimi, who headed the pass off the crossbar after Solo managed to get a glove on it. Moments later, Tobin Heath appeared to block a Japanese freekick with her left hand in the penalty area, though referee did not blow the whistle.

Next, Japan almost put the ball in their own net. In the 28th minute, Lloyd crossed into the penalty area for Morgan, though Azusa Iwashimizu latched onto the ball and headed it past her teammate Miho Fukimoto and off the left post.

The U.S. managed to make it into halftime with the lead, though Lloyd calmed nerves by scoring the U.S.’ second goal in the 52nd minute. With Japan putting a large amount of pressure on the U.S. backline, Lloyd collected the ball off a clearance by Megan Rapinoe and made a 25-yard run toward the Japanese penalty area before curling a shot inside the far post to double the lead.

Japan cut the U.S.’ lead in half through Ogimi, who finished a sloppy sequence in the American penalty area in the 63rd minute. Homare Sawa had a shot parried away by Solo before Rampone cleared the follow-up shot off the line. Sawa pounced on Rampone’s clearance and played it to Ogimi, who buried her shot just one yard in front of the net.

The reigning World Cup Champs continued to pile on the pressure and Solo was forced into a big save on a shot by Aya Miyama, who went in on goal one-on-one, in the 83rd minute. But Solo, whose shutout bid ended when Ogimi scored, owed much thanks to Rampone and the U.S. defense.

Rampone was unlucky to have her second clearance off the line turn into a goal, though she made up for it by leading a solid backline that held the late high pressure from the Japanese attack at bay even after Rachel Buehler needed to come off for Becky Sauerbrunn in the final ten minutes due to an injury.

The gold medal was the fourth for the U.S. Women, who have advanced to the final in every Olympic soccer tournament since women’s soccer was introduced into the Olympics in 1996.

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