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USA women show amazing resilience

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If you like sports at all – or perhaps even if you don’t – you probably remember the incredible 1999 Women’s World Cup Soccer Championship game in which Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm and company battled the Chinese team for 120 minutes and won the epic bout in penalty kicks.

For me, that victory ranks up there with the “Miracle on Ice” of the 1980 USA men’s hockey team and I never thought I would see something like it again.

Until yesterday. Exactly twelve years to the day after the Hamm-led USA women won the World Cup, a new team of American women pulled off another incredible feat. As I watched the match and read more about it online, I noticed these young women using a handful of terrific resiliency skills.

The setup

Yesterday’s quarterfinal match with Brazil started off in an irregular way, setting the tone for the rest of the game. Early in the first half, Brazil’s Daiane inexplicably scored an “own goal” as she became entangled with her goalkeeper trying to fend off a USA shot on goal.

USA 1, Brazil 0.

A series of implausible events

The Americans held the advantage until midway through the second half when a series of implausible events occurred. Brazil’s star, Marta, received a pass close to the American goal and began dribbling it expertly toward the net. USA defender Rachel Buehler dogged her the entire way with both players pushing each other to obtain control of the ball. Marta went down as she shot and Buehler was called for a foul inside the penalty box.

Replays showed the jostling was even between the two players, but it was not surprising when Buehler was assessed the penalty. The surprising thing happened directly after when referee Jacqui Melksham ran up to Bueher and held a red card aloft.


A red card is reserved for particularly egregious fouls and Buehler’s infraction certainly did not fall into that category. The situation now looked like this for the Americans: Not only was Brazil given a penalty kick for the foul occurring within the penalty box, but Buehler was forced to leave the game and the Americans could not replace her. The USA would have to play the rest of the game with 10 players as opposed to Brazil’s 11.

But wait, there’s more . . .

Brazil’s Cristiane took the penalty shot – usually an automatic goal for players of this caliber – but goalkeeper Hope Solo managed to stop the shot with an athletic dive to her left. The joy of the USA players was short-lived as Melksham stopped play and ordered the penalty kick to be replayed. Solo protested and was immediately slapped with a yellow card.

Even today, after hours of expert analysis, no one quite knows what caused the referee to call the first shot invalid. Perhaps it was the one-step encroachment a USA player made as the ball was being struck, even though experts agreed the infringement was miniscule. Nonetheless, the shot was retaken, this time by Marta who drilled home a winner.

USA 1, Brazil 1.

Now, here comes the resiliency part . . .

If it had been me, or perhaps you, my frustration and anger over the unfairness of the situation would have caused me to lose my edge and play terribly. But not this team, not these young American women. Facing adversity, they grew stronger. They allowed their justified anger to sharpen their focus and increase their determination.

Somewhat lackluster before the foul-red-card-penalty-kick-penalty-kick-do-over, the USA began to play in earnest. Down a player, they hustled all over the field, harassing the Brazilians and even getting off some shots on the Brazilian goal. One shot by striker Abby Wambach almost scooted into the far side of the net but the Brazilian keeper was able to get a finger on it and deflect it wide.

The Americans accepted their situation and quickly realized their best hope was to play out the match, keep the Brazilians from scoring in extra time, and make it into the penalty kicks round. All of this while being a player down.

Somehow, the 90-minute regulation period ended in a 1-1 tie.

However, minutes into the first extra-time period, the superb Marta deftly flicked the ball into the goal past Solo’s outstretched fingers.

Brazil 2, USA 1.

Now came a critical decision-making period. How to play the rest of the game. There were still thirteen minutes left in the first overtime half and fifteen minutes in the second half. The Americans needed to score a goal to tie and have any hope of winning the match on penalty kicks. The Brazilians needed to keep their advantage.

The Americans chose to stay calm and stick to their game plan of constant pressure and shots on goal from set plays.

The Brazilians chose to ride out the rest of the game and hope it worked out well for them. The decision turned out to be in error.

While the Americans pressed the obviously tired Brazilians relentlessly, the Brazilians took to stalling to try to run out the clock. Players went down with phantom injuries and sauntered toward the line for throw-ins. At one point, Erika fell to the ground with an injury, taking up a full three minutes while being tended to. Miraculously, after being taken off the field in a stretcher, she hopped up a few seconds later and re-entered the game.

That maneuver would prove to be the Brazilians’ undoing.

Although the game technically should have ended at the 120-minute mark, “stoppage time” was added on, including the three minutes that Erika was on the ground with her “injury.”

The Americans never gave up. Although she had trouble with crossing passes throughout the game, Megan Rapinoe continued to ply her trade and, finally, in the 122nd minute – seconds before the end of stoppage time – she crossed a ball in front of Brazil’s goal toward Abby Wambach.

Still photos show the millisecond when Wambach’s head connected with the winner. The ball passed only inches over a Brazilian defender’s head as well as the keeper’s outstretched fingers. At last, after many failures – success! Wambach flicked the ball into the net and a new miraculous game legend was born.

The penalty kick phase that took place after stoppage time was almost a moot point as the Americans confidently put all five of their shots in goal. The Brazilians were stopped one time by Hope Solo – who had retained her focus in spite of extreme unfairness earlier – enough for the USA to complete their improbable comeback.

USA 5, Brazil 3.

Afterwards, a stunned and joyful Wambach said, “I think this is what this country is all about . . . we never gave up.”

An epic story of resilience for the ages.

Takeaway points: 1.)You have a choice when facing adversity: You can crumble or accept the situation and grow stronger. 2.) Keep trying, even if you’ve failed in the past. 3.) It’s okay to be angry when something is unfair. Just use that anger to become more focused rather than destructive. 4.) Never give up.

What did you think of the game?

Photo credit: Jason Gulledge

Besides being a big sports fan, I’m also a therapist in Los Altos, Ca. Thinking about therapy? Give me a call at 650-529-9059. Or send me an email.


One Comment

  1. Football.Com says:

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.