In the aftermath of what some are already calling the best game in a generation
, it's a shame that Canada's 4-3 extra time loss, to the heavily favoured Americans, will largely be remembered for what a referee did.
To set the scene: the Canadian women's soccer team, who has only beaten the powerhouse U.S. four times in its history, was leading 3-2 in the 80th minute of the Olympic semifinal on Monday. All three goals had come from their captain Christine Sinclair
and Big Red was looking poised to generate an upset of epic proportions.
That was until Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen stepped in and made a call that few could comprehend and even fewer knew existed.
On paper, a referee can call an indirect free kick when a goaltender is charged with controlling the ball with her hands for too long.
Usually - and only after repeated warnings - a ref can deliver a yellow card and the goaltender is then free to deliver her kick.
When Canadian keeper Erin McLeod was deemed to have exceeded her six-second limit, 'on paper' and 'usually' became a twisted blend of the rules and reality.
The ensuing free kick would see Canadian defender Lauren Sesselmann deflect the ball off her hand, Pedersen shockingly called another foul for their trouble and American Abby Wambach knotted the game at three from the ensuing penalty kick.
McLeod would later describe her disbelief to the assembled press, saying she had only received a prior warning from the referee's assistant at the start of the second half - and even then, she explained, it was just a vague reference to keeping the game going.
U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage would add fuel to the confusion (and conspiracy) fires when she too admitted she had never seen a call - or a series of plays - of the sort.
Outside of your kid's weekend soccer game - one refereed by the local uninterested teenager - few have.Canada's Olympic dream not dead
The result doesn't end Canada's Olympic dream but it certainly does pop a few clouds.
Before they face France for a bronze on Thursday and before the referee storyline pushes the plot down a dark alley, it's worth pointing out four things that will be lost from Canada's performance against the U.S.Sinclair-Tancredi duo
Coming into the Olympic tournament the big question was would Canada be able to generate goals if its opponents locked Sinclair down? Melissa Tancredi has resoundingly proven that not only is she capable of answering that call but with her performance in this tournament, Canada can make a case for having one of the strongest one-two pairings in the world.
This was especially obvious as Tancredi found Sinclair's head from a searching cross that would put Canada up 2-1, shortly after the Americans had equalized. It was Tancredi's pass that would also help Sinclair break through and open the game's scoring in the first half.
The duo combined for 10 goals over the tournament, but moreover, the way they played off one another showed a growing level of familiarity, one that is going to be a threat in the years to come.The play of Desiree Scott
Canada often tends to glorify its heroes through the lens of physical play. When Sinclair broke her nose at the last World Cup last year and returned only minutes later to battle on, she became not only a household name, but also a something of a legend to Canadian soccer fans.
Already nicknamed 'The Destroyer' by her teammates, Desiree Scott may soon find herself in a similar fame.
After an entire game of box-to-box play, a crunching tackle late in the waning minutes left her writhing on the pitch in agony. The replay would show her knee bending back much further than knees are allowed to, and left most commentators assuming the worst.
After several minutes on the ground and shaking off the invitations to a stretcher, she hobbled back to the sidelines with the aid of her trainers. With a substitute already warmed up, Scott adamantly declined her coach's invitation to take a seat for the night and demanded to be put back in the game. After insisting several times, coach John Herdman acquiesced and sent Scott back out.
The sight of her hobbling back into the play and getting stuck in again on the very next tackle might leave some cynics questioning how hurt she actually was, but for those that know the player, it will stand as another iconic image of Canadian perseverance.David vs. Goliath
Canadian midfielder Diana Matheson is five-foot-nothing and maybe 110 pounds on a good day. American striker Abby Wambach is shade slight of six-foot and a very filled 170 pounds on just about any day.
How Matheson managed to contain, control and consistently frustrate Wambach in open play is nothing short of amazing. No defensive midfielder has done as complete a job of closing down the striker during this tournament who is second all time in U.S. scoring, as Matheson did in Canada's defeat. The Princeton graduate turned pit bull was buried in her opponents' shadow all game but managed, time and again, to get a foot in at the most opportune time and turn the forward away.
Midfielders - and especially those who fill defensive roles - often get overlooked for their contributions but Matheson's effort in this game, and throughout tournament, continue to be a major part of their success.A chance for redemption
It's no secret that the undoing of the last incarnation of this Canadian squad began at the feet of France during last year's World Cup. As their former coach, Carolina Morace, sent withering stares out at her players, Canada fell behind early and collapsed under the weight of their own expectations.
The experience led to cleaning of a house - in the coaching staff and its mental approach. Under Herdman, the team has shown a new found resilience and a level of faith in itself that was never really there under the Morace church of personality.
Minus a few injuries, the Canadian squad which takes on France for bronze this Thursday, will largely be the same as the one that suited up in Germany last year.
The Canadians may be feeling deflated, following what seems like a robbery at the hands of the referee, but they will need no other reason to get up for this game, other than to look across the pitch and let those searing memories from a year ago sink in.
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