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These US women crush Canada quickly
Bounce among enough hostels around the world and it’s easy to spot Canadians among all the nationalities. They’re the ones with the red maple leaf patch sewn to their backpacks, lest — quelle horreur! — they be taken for Americans.
So, for a country that has had sports teams (Expos, Flames and Grizzlies), sports deities (Wayne Gretzky and Steve Nash) and breakfast food (Canadian bacon) appropriated by Americans, this had to be a demoralizing 24 hours at the Olympics.
First, the women’s soccer team lost a heartbreaking semifinal match Monday night to the United States, a 4-3 overtime defeat that was sealed as much by a referee’s whistle as it was Alex Morgan’s last-minute header.
Then, Tuesday afternoon, the women’s basketball team was pummeled by the Americans, 91-48, in a quarterfinal game that was over a few possessions after the opening tip.
Rip the heart out. Then Crip walk on it.
It was easy to wonder — watching the Canadians struggle Tuesday to simply get off a shot at the start of their first Olympic quarterfinal — if the rest of the world is gnashing their teeth over the United States in the two most prominent women’s team sports. One is ruthless, the other is blessed.
Have Americans become the Evil Empire?
“We’re like the Red Army team from Russia,” United States basketball coach Geno Auriemma said with a smirk. “We win so much that people are just dying for anybody, somebody to beat these guys. I’m not ready for any miracles in London.”
Auriemma was speaking only of his team, for which it does not appear there will be any divine intervention. Next up is Australia, the team that the United States has beaten in the past three gold medal matches. But the Americans have won 39 in a row and play with such exceptional execution at both ends of the court — something you don’t often see from the men — that it is no wonder they have won their games by 25, 52, 31, 27, 48 and now 43 points.
Winning so much naturally creates skeptics, who had their ah-ha moments when each team’s most prominent player, guard Diana Taurasi and goalkeeper Hope Solo, had positive drug tests overturned within the past two years. If not, each would be suspended for these games.
If there are conspiracies over the NBA Draft, then why not over women’s soccer? If the referee was angling for the Americans — as 95 percent believed in an online poll by the Canadian paper The National Post — then why wouldn’t they overturn a drug test?
“You know how the general public is,” Auriemma said. “The majority of people, the minute they read about something they rush to judgment and they say, 'She’s got to be guilty.' Diana was exonerated like I knew she would be. We’ve gone in America from you’re innocent until proven guilty to you’re guilty until proven innocent. And even then, you might have been found innocent, but we still think you’re guilty.”
The Canadians had all gathered around in the athlete village the night before, watching their soccer compatriots, as Canadians will do. They were at the edge of their seats for most of the evening, squirming, shouting and, ultimately, sympathizing.
One thing they did not do is fill their heads with thoughts of revenge. It was not a jihad, just a basketball game.
“It was such a heartbreak,” said Canada forward Lizanne Murphy. “But in soccer, it’s easier to pull an upset than in basketball. In the end, usually, the bigger, faster, stronger team does win.”
That used to be the United States women in soccer, when they would run roughshod over — and often around — most of the rest of the world. But others have caught up, most notably Japan, France and Brazil, and for a night, the Canadians, too.
What has made the US women’s soccer team so popular — its TV ratings exceeded the men’s basketball team’s last Sunday — are riveting moments. Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey at the Rose Bowl, the exhilarating win over Brazil and the loss to Japan at last summer’s World Cup, and then Monday’s chapter at Old Trafford, Manchester United’s Theater of Dreams.
An argument can be made — and one that’s privately held by some with the women’s basketball team — that the soccer team’s popularity is built on the wholesome good looks of its players. But that misses a point: The basketball team hasn’t had any foils, any occasions in which it was required to rise beyond itself and pull the audience along with it.
And from the verbal jousting that took place between the teams — neither wanting to give the other much credit — this may have been the birth of a rivalry.
Candace Parker said she, too, watched the soccer game and was thrilled by it. But the thrill was gone by the time a question was asked whether she missed being deprived of those types of moments playing basketball with the United States.
“In no way, shape or form is it boring,” Parker said. “All of us take that us-against-the-world type of mentality from birth. It’s the attitude you have to have to succeed and be good for long periods of time.”
It’s also one that, north of the border — and elsewhere, too — might just ring true.
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