No, I did not plan to watch the Canada-US soccer match. I have almost no interest in the Olympics, and I do not follow soccer at all. In fact, the only player I would have been able to name on either team would have been US goalkeeper Hope Solo, and only because she had made news the previous week for being a thin-skinned idiot who can’t handle criticism. I did know that the US team is supposed to be the best in the world, and that Canada wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near as good (I found out later that Canada hadn’t beaten the US in 11 years). So, when I happened upon the game while channel-surfing, and Canada was leading in the first half, I decided to watch for a bit to see how long they could hang on before the US took over. Before I knew it, it was halftime, and Canada was still ahead.
Then came the wild second half. If you watched it, you no doubt remember it: US ties it at one; Canada goes up 2-1; US quickly ties it again; Canada quickly goes up 3-2. It was quite a flurry of scoring for a sport well-known for low-scoring games. The clock was ticking down towards the end of regulation. I was hooked.
By now, everyone knows what occurred next. There was some poor officiating that favoured the US team. Then there was a controversial call. The US was awarded a free kick. That led to another dubious call, and the US was awarded a penalty kick, which was converted for a 3-3 tie with only a few minutes left in regulation. The US scored in extra time to win 4-3. That was the outcome, but it took me a few hours to figure out what had actually happened.
Now, some have hinted that the referee intentionally favoured the US team. I have even seen some memes, tweets, and other such nonsense floating around the internet suggesting some sort of deliberate effort by the referee, the IOC, or even FIFA to ensure a US victory. Conspiracy theories of this sort are inevitable; even though recognized examples of organized corruption among officials are rare, they have happened, including in the lead up to these games. In this case, I don’t believe that any such thing happened.
I have been watching sports for practically my whole life, and I can say with confidence that Canada’s loss on Monday to the United States in Olympic soccer happened because one of match’s participants buckled under the pressure. In other words, it was an Olympic-sized choke job.
In a close contest, especially one at an event of this magnitude, a veteran athlete will often try to find any way that they can to win. I have seen cagey veterans use tactics that they have learned through their extensive experiences, and these can sometimes range from the morally questionable to outright cheating. US player Abby Wambach proved to be just such a player in this match. Wambach, a veteran with a great deal of international experience, showed great determination in her play, and used her size to exert a physical presence. However, it was her cunning gamesmanship which ultimately turned the tide in her team’s favour. And, as it often goes in these circumstances, it is the one who is not of championship calibre who is victimized, who becomes the goat.
Yes, the Canadian team lost, but it was Christiana Pedersen, the Norwegian referee, who choked. In this game, she drew an assignment which, on paper, probably seemed like it would be fairly simple, the US team being heavy favourites against a Canadian team that had finished last in the 2011 World Cup. What ended up happening was anything but simple, and in the pressure cooker of a close game, with the underdog Canadians on the verge of a huge upset, Pedersen was goaded by Wamback into making a horrendous call. Based on the comments of Canadian star Christine Sinclair, I would have to conclude that Pedersen’s nerves were getting the better of her as a result of the tight game. Sinclair remarked that when she attempted to plead her team’s case to the referee regarding the crucial free kick call, Pedersen, “... actually giggled and said nothing.” Ask yourself, “Who giggles in a pressure-filled situation like that?”
The end result was an unfortunate one for everyone involved (except for the Americans, who, let’s face it, will take a win any way they can get it). The Canadian team lost an opportunity to play for the gold medal. Members of the Canadian team now face possible discipline from FIFA for comments made about the officiating (Which is too bad, really; Sinclair said that, “...the ref decided the result before the game started,” which I believe is true, that Pedersen saw a US victory as a foregone conclusion). Perhaps worst of all, Christiana Pedersen has to face the fact that, when it really mattered, she wasn’t good enough. Officials shouldn’t decide the outcome of an athletic contest. In this case, the referee figured prominently in the result. As I was watching the game, I was angered by what was happening. After I figured out what really happened, I felt bad for Christiana Pedersen, worse than I felt for the Canadian players, because at least they knew that, when it came right down to it, they were good enough. After the game, Canadian coach John Herdman said, “We'll move on from this, I wonder if she'll be able to.” Only time will tell.