Featured / Women's World Cup

US defeats Brazil on PKs: Emotional analysis

Extended highlights of the USA/Brazil match, along with individual highlights of the big plays and all the penalty kicks, can be found here. And are totally awesome.

This was a moment.

All the stories about this moment that make it about something big: Women’s soccer, American pride, personal glory or redemption, desire, belief, composure. All that is part of it. The neutral crowd: aimlessly mirthful and raucous. Fans at home: Instantly transported into a new reality where the doubts and disappointment around which our minds cast morose futures were magically zapped into the minds of Brazilians like some weird, sporting sequel to a Freaky Friday-type movie.

This moment was all of that. And it is every word of every conversation and article that millions of people will speak and write. To call the moment any one of those things, to call it anything less than all of it at once, is to undervalue it.

The sound that Abby Wambach made after she scored – a similar but more emphatic version of the sound so many people watching the match made – was an unhinged scream. No words. No language of any kind. Just noise. The vocal expression of an emotional cocktail so primitive and basic that it resonates with us whether we know it’s cause or not. A sound that can make you feel like your heart is smiling or that it has just dropped out of your chest and left a bottomless void in its place.

The United States Women’s National soccer team did something special. By defeating Brazil on penalty kicks, the U.S. advances to Wednesday’s semi-finals to face France at 11:30am.

Recipients of a fortuitous early goal and victims of a technically-correct-but-realistically-absurd refereeing decision, the U.S. team gave up a goal at the beginning of overtime and played the entire extra period with the prospect of an imminent tournament exit creeping from the back of their minds into their peripheral vision.

Players become full-time athletes, leave other pursuits aside, and strive to create an endless array of game situations in practice so that, in the extra thirty minutes beyond the point of normal exertions, quality will remain. Quality that exists on the same primitive level as a post-goal scream.

Quality that reveals itself in the left foot of a substitute who used to be a starter; and in the concentration of a striker famous for her aerial prowess, playing in what seemed to be the last moment of her international career.

Quality we recognize only as “chills” or “goosebumps.” That turns vague interest into rabid patriotism.

Quality that lays the groundwork for special moments.

Abby Wambach’s goal and Hope Solo’s penalty kick heroics won’t save the struggling WPS or turn women’s soccer into America’s game. It won’t turn a generation of young girls on to the sport (they already know about it and love it).

It was just a moment. And the fact that you know what that means. And I know what that means. And when it happened, we all screamed.

Photo: Paul Rudderow



  1. This game, that goal, will be one of those moments you always remember where you were for it. Just like Donovan’s goal vs. Algeria but even better.
    For what its worth, I was up at my folks place swimming and grilling with my family who are very much baseball fans. But there we were, six guys standing huddled around 3 feet in front of the tv watching that game, screaming at the ref, cursing at the time wasting, shouting lets go. That last gasp sequence up field from our own corner was pure delight. It might have made a soccer fan out of my father.

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