Lloyd, U.S. women get shot at soccer redemption

Posted: August 09, 2012

LONDON - Carli Lloyd has already had one kick in the head in this Olympic soccer tournament. She has no interest in another one.

That's how a loss in Thursday's gold medal game against Japan would feel. A year ago in Frankfurt, Lloyd and her mates lost the World Cup final to this same Japanese team on penalty kicks.

"It was horrible, to be honest, to be that close and losing," said Lloyd, the Delran native whose penalty-kick attempt that night sailed over the crossbar. "It made us all dig deeper. We knew we had the Olympics coming up, so we had something to look forward to. It would have been awful if we'd played the World Cup and then not had anything for a couple of years."

That will be the case after this game. There will be no shot at payback. And that is exactly what the Americans are looking for.

"I've been hoping for this final ever since I stepped off the podium in Germany," U.S. star Abby Wambach said.

It can be debated which is the bigger, more prestigious event. Certainly, this game will have world-class atmosphere. Wembley Stadium, which holds about 83,000, is sold out. After the tough-and-rumble U.S.-Canada semifinal Monday night, won on an overtime header by Alex Morgan, there is real buzz about this tournament.

"This is going to be a great night for soccer and a great night for women's sports," Wambach said.

"We're making it exciting for people," Lloyd said. "And giving them heart attacks."

The Americans don't expect anything like the chippy play and cheap shots that have defined their journey to the final. Wambach was sucker-punched by Colombia's Lady Andrade, who was suspended for two games for the offense. Lloyd would like to see FIFA, the sports governing body, take similar action against Melissa Tancredi. The Canadian stomped Lloyd's head while she was on the ground.

"I've got some marks back here, for sure," Lloyd said, rubbing the back of her head. "I don't think stomping on someone's head or sucker-punching someone is part of the game. I couldn't believe it when I saw the replay, that she did it purposely. I hope actions are taken against that, because it's not part of the game."

The U.S. players and Japan have developed a mutual respect over the last few years. Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and team captain Christie Rampone all said that should prevent similar rough stuff.

"They snatched our dream, and we still have that respect for them," Rapinoe said.

The Japanese play an elegant style based on ball control, patiently advancing the ball with short passes rather than taking the aggressive and sometimes risky runs the U.S. team likes. Of course, it helps when you have scorers like Lloyd and Alex Morgan to complement Wambach's all-around game and Rapinoe's playmaking skills.

The U.S. team will have to be physical with Japan in order to disrupt that passing game, but the players see a big difference between aggressive play and dirty play.

"It's just tough," Lloyd said. "Nothing dirty. It's just the nature of the game. You have to bring a sense of toughness. When we high-pressure Japan, it does rattle them a little bit. I think that will be a key."

As if they needed further motivation, the game will be team captain Christie Rampone's last with the U.S. national team. The Point Pleasant, N.J., native is the last of the 1999 World Cup champions. Now 37, Rampone will play in her fourth Olympic gold-medal game to match her four World Cup final games. A loss would be that much harder for her to take.

"It would be heartbreaking," Rampone said. "I have to take a look at the big picture. To be able to make it to four Olympics, four gold medal matches, I've had an unbelievable career. I never could have written it. I'm just going to be here, in the moment, and enjoy it."

Rampone is the bridge between Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, whose World Cup win in '99 helped grow women's soccer exponentially, and Lloyd and Morgan, two young players who watched that team as kids.

"The sport is growing," Rampone said. "Back in the day, we had some amazing players, but you didn't get the acknowledgment the players deserved. Now you're getting more superstars."

The U.S. team is loaded with them. Lloyd's game-winning goal in overtime to win the gold medal in Beijing elevated her status. Morgan joined her with the winner against Canada Monday.

"Hopefully," Wambach said, "some of the people here will become legends [Thursday] night."

Beats a kick in the head.

Contact Phil Sheridan

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