Old Trafford, the home of English football’s most crowned champions, hosted the most decorated team in women’s soccer Monday in an Olympic semi-final against Canada. Alex Morgan’s 123rd minute header sealed a surreal American triumph and turned the Theatre of Dreams into Canada’s house of horror. U.S. now have the best odds for winning Olympic gold.
Thrice Canada led the U.S., and thrice the U.S. fought back. Canadian footballer Christine Sinclair, closing in on 200 caps for her country, scored the sole goal of the first half with a fantastic run in the box that bamboozled the American defense and left American keeper Hope Solo hopeless.
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage’s team attacked relentlessly to begin the second half, delighting the mostly pro-American crowd. Megan Rapinoe’s well-taken corner in the 54th exposed Canada’s weak near-post defense and leveled the score. Any thoughts of the goal restoring order to a game between the top-ranked and 7th ranked sides in the world swiftly vanished when Sinclair rose above the tumult to put Canada ahead again in the 67th minute.
Back came the U.S.. Megan Rapinoe, so often the spark in last summer’s World Cup campaign, calmly collected a cross and fired a perfectly placed shot into the Canadian goal from the edge of the penalty area. But Canada’s spirit, and in particular Sinclair’s, were high on this day. Moments after Rapinoe’s strike, Sinclair’s wonderfully taken header put Canada ahead for the third and final time of the day.
All of the Great North could be forgiven for thinking that Sinclair’s hat-trick would seal the stunning upset in the cold of northern England. But then, Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen awarded the U.S. a free kick from within the Canadian penalty area. Rapinoe’s kick struck Marie-Eve Nault on the arm. Some would argue that it is near impossible to move one’s arm away from a shot taken that close. Regardless, the referee whistled for the penalty, and after much jostling, Abby Wambach easily converted to level the game.
Both teams went for it in extra time, with no hint of either side easing off to await what would have been the first shootout in Olympic women’s soccer history. The shootout still seemed inevitable as the clock crept past 120 minutes, but in the 123rd minute of play, Alex Morgan, who scored in both the semi-final and final of last year’s World Cup, struck a header that looped over Canadian keeper Erin McLeod. Canada’s dream shattered, America’s dream comeback complete.
Now the Americans’ thoughts turn to revenge as they prepare to face World Cup-holders Japan for the gold medal on Thursday at the new Wembley Stadium.