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Soccer Watch

By Nick Barbaro, July 22, 2011, Sports

So, did the U.S. Women choke in the World Cup title game Sunday against Japan? That's the backlash story circulating through the American sports media community this week: The U.S. choked, and further, the media, led by a boosterish ESPN, let them off the hook by not calling it what it was. (Locally, Cedric Golden's column Tues­day, "Choke not too harsh to describe U.S. defeat," was, I believe, the first thing anyone at the States­man wrote about the tournament. That's a step up, actually, from last year, when the sum total of States­man reporting on the men's WC was a Kirk Bohls afterthought, wondering why the clock in soccer doesn't work the same as it does in basketball.)

Indeed, the manner of the U.S. loss – the top-ranked team in the world losing late leads in both regulation and overtime, then missing three penalty kicks in the shoot-out – was dramatic, wrenching for the team, and psychological pressure was obviously a factor. But although Golden says that "to not call Sunday's loss to Japan a choke would be a disservice to sports," it's not at all clear just what is being served by slapping that simplifying label onto what was, in fact, an excellent and complex game.

In the end, I think the American women got it just about right in the postgame comments: They played well – probably their best game of the tournament – but just couldn't put it away, while Japan hung around, did enough to create a couple of goals, and, well, a shoot-out is what it is.

Sunday's final smashed various records for TV viewership and set a new Twitter record, drawing 7,196 tweets per second at the end of the game.

Both Brazil and host Argentina departed the Copa America in the quarterfinals; catch the championship final, Uruguay against Paraguay or Venezuela, on Univision, Sunday, July 24, 2pm.

As for the shoot-out, well, any shoot-out is a bit of a crapshoot, but the psychological advantages were all with Japan: nothing to lose, just got a late goal to stay alive – whereas the U.S. had played their best game of the tournament, totally dominated meaningful possession, created all sorts of chances, but couldn't put Japan away; a shoot-out was the last place they wanted to be. But if that's a choke, then surely Brazil choked in the quarterfinal, giving up the stunning Abby Wambach equalizer in the 122nd minute and then losing in PKs. And so did Sweden in the semifinal, giving up two late U.S. goals despite dominating much of the game. By that measure, in fact, I suppose everyone choked except Japan – and of course North Korea, who claim they were done in by bad musk deer gland extract they took to get over being hit by lightning.

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