The Spot
Slate's soccer blog.

July 2 2015 12:31 PM

England’s Response to Laura Bassett’s Own Goal Nightmare Offers Lesson for Men’s Sports

England was eliminated from the Women’s World Cup after losing to Japan 2–1 on Wednesday in the most historically apt way possible for a country famous for tragic exits from major tournaments of its beloved national pastime. But the response to the nightmare end to a dream World Cup from England's fans was heartening and offers a model for how fans should react to similar moments from athletes across genders.

In the second minute of injury time, just seconds away from the game going into two extra time periods, England defender Laura Bassett sent a looping clearance attempt in the direction of her goal and watched as it bounced off of the top bar and over the line to hand Japan the victory and a place in the Women’s World Cup final alongside the United States.

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As the English press quickly noted, the heartbreaking circumstances of elimination for England’s women—who were making their first-ever World Cup semifinals appearance—are very much in line with recent experiences for their men's team.

The BBC pointed out that Bassett's despair and tears were reminiscent of England men’s star Paul Gascoigne at the 1990 World Cup after he got a yellow card in the semifinals that would have eliminated him from playing in the final. Gascoigne subsequently was too upset to take a penalty kick in the game's final shootout, which England lost to Germany 4–3. His tears are one of the country’s most iconic sporting images.

The website Eurosport also catalogued England’s long history of late-game trauma in late rounds of major tournaments, bringing up penalty shootout losses in the 1996 European Championships, 1998 World Cup, and 2011 World Cup.

The English public and press, meanwhile, rallied around the England team, and even around Bassett, who received an outpouring of sympathy on Twitter from across the soccer world.

“Laura Bassett, without a shadow of doubt, will go home a hero but we will be there for her. We will stay together and stay strong,” said England coach Mark Sampson. “Laura is one of us, she is one of our team, we get around her, we console her and we tell her how proud we are of her, because without her we wouldn't be in that semifinal.”

The hashtag #ProudofBassett even reportedly trended on Twitter after the own goal, while her teammates showered Bassett with support, one of whom described her as the nation’s “rock.”

“Laura Bassett feels like she has let everyone down but she has given everything for England,” goal-scorer Fara Williams said.

At least one writer, Claire Cohen of the Daily Telegraph, pointed out that the sympathy for Bassett might be part of a sexist double-standard—similar men’s soccer failures have resulted in players being broadly vilified and, in one tragic case, even killed.

But, as Cohen acknowledged, offering empathy for a player who had performed at the top of her game to help her team reach heights it never had before, but then made one bone-headed play that will haunt her the rest of her life, is the right approach for both women athletes and men.

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July 1 2015 4:53 PM

FIFA Airs Suggestive Slow-Mo Shot of Hope Solo Hydrating. What Is Wrong With FIFA?

If you turned away from the game for a few seconds during Tuesday night’s glorious 2–0 United States semifinal victory over Germany at the Women’s World Cup, then you may have missed one of the oddest moments of the tournament so far.

With a 1–0 U.S. lead in the 79th minute, the FIFA telecast decided to hold the screen on an 11-second slow-motion replay of star U.S. goalkeeper (and legendary jerk) Hope Solo hydrating and cooling herself with the contents of a water bottle. The apparently necessary slow-motion view, though, made the shot look gratuitously, um, suggestive.

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A colleague at Slate wondered if noted women’s rights advocate and disgraced FIFA president Sepp Blatter was in the control room directing the game, while I couldn’t help but be reminded of this 1990s Super Bowl commercial starring Cindy Crawford drinking a Pepsi. Reddit has flagged that some enterprising YouTube user slowed the clip down even further to make it 30 seconds of awkward and ridiculous-looking refreshment, which just emphasizes the absurdity of the FIFA clip.

While it’s fun to laugh off something like this, the apparent focus on a player’s sexuality by an official broadcast—even one subtle enough to be dismissed as a possible mistake—is a disappointing blip in what has otherwise been fine coverage of an exciting, world-class sporting event.

Last year’s World Cup tournament provided a similar opportunity for people to objectify the athletes in that competition, but I can’t recall a telecast lingering on a male player in such a suggestive manner. Also, as Slate's Amanda Hess pointed out at the time, there’s an ugly history of female athletes being appreciated in the media and by the public for their looks and not their skills that makes the objectification of male players far less troubling, if troubling at all. FIFA would be wise to double-check that Blatter is not in the control booth for Sunday’s final. 

 

July 1 2015 8:53 AM

Why Were All the Player Escorts in the USA-Germany Game Girls?

On Tuesday night, a few minutes before the kickoff of the Women’s World Cup semifinal between the U.S. and Germany, the starting players for each side walked onto the pitch accompanied by 22 young children. This intergenerational spectacle is familiar to even casual soccer fans: The children are youth players who’ve been selected as player escorts, and they’re an expected sight at professional soccer games around the world. Their purpose is basically to embody the connection between players and young fans (and to make FIFA look good). “The Youth Programme highlights the importance FIFA places on enabling children to connect with the sport from an early age,” according to a FIFA press release.

Player escorts at men’s games are almost always co-ed, but the player escorts at the USA-Germany game last night were all girls. In fact, the vast majority of player escorts at this year’s World Cup have been girls, which is a shame and a missed opportunity. The message conveyed by the gender imbalance of the player escorts is that only girls should care about the Women’s World Cup. It would obviously be better for the sport and the fans to show that boys care about the Women’s World Cup, too.

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FIFA and the Canadian national organizing committee behind the tournament aren’t forthcoming about why most of the player escorts at this year’s World Cup are female. The Youth Programme participants, which also include other, less visible roles, were selected from more than 50 soccer clubs based in and around the six host cities: Edmonton, Moncton, Montréal, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.* “Our local venue teams reached out to their various soccer communities (many of which had purchased group tickets to the Competition) in order to fill the roles of Player Escorts, Ball Crew and FIFA Flag Bearers,” explained Richard Scott, the director of communications for the Canada 2015 national organizing committee, in an email. “It is our understanding oftentimes a Club and/or Team would select the participants, such as having one team fill a particular role as they were all attending the game.”

I asked for clarification on what exactly this meant—did FIFA, the local venues, or someone else instruct local organizers to favor girls over boys as player escorts? I have yet to hear back. Regardless of whether the heavily female composition of the player escorts was intentional or simply a reflection of the types of youth teams that bought tickets to the tournament, it’s an unfortunate result.

If the organizers did favor girls on purpose, I’m sure that that decision came from a place of good intentions. It is indeed important to teach girls that they can grow up to play professional sports, if they’re driven and talented enough, and to show them women who have succeeded in careers that have traditionally been male-dominated. And in fields that have been historically controlled by white men, it can sometimes make sense to set aside positions for women or minorities in order to help correct the imbalances of the past.

But the FIFA Youth Programme isn’t an ideal place for girls-only roles. That’s because player escorts’ purpose is largely symbolic: The children are there to look up to professional footballers as a proxy for all the children (and adults) around the world who admire these gifted athletes. In the men’s game, the fact that player escorts are usually boys and girls represents that people of both sexes can and do respect professional male footballers.

The unintentional symbolism of excluding boys from walking out with the women’s national teams is that boys either don’t look up to female soccer players, or that boys shouldn’t look up to women’s soccer players. The latter is, needless to say, a terrible message. The women playing in this year’s World Cup are better athletes than the vast majority of boys and men who play soccer will ever be. If boys care about skill and athleticism, they should look up to Megan Rapinoe and Célia Šašić. And if they don’t currently look up to Rapinoe and Šašić, adults should teach them to! Women’s sports will never get the respect and attention they deserve if boys grow up believing that they needn’t care about female athletes.

Luckily, a glance in the stands indicates that many boys do care about the Women’s World Cup. As a fan watching from home, my favorite part of the tournament has been seeing shots of bleachers occupied by men and boys wrapped in flags and plastered with body paint, cheering themselves hoarse for their women’s national team. I only wish FIFA would catch up with the fans and go find some Canadian boys to walk out with England and Japan today. Because the sight of a young boy literally looking up to a world-class female soccer player would be a powerful symbol of the respect that all soccer fans—male and female—owe the women’s sport. 

Correction, July 1, 2015: This post originally misspelled Ottawa.

June 30 2015 9:15 PM

USA Is Going Back to the Women's World Cup Final for a Record Fourth Time

The United States is going to the World Cup final after beating Germany 2-0 on Tuesday. The No. 2 ranked Americans played their best game of the entire tournament and—despite being saved by a critical non-call in the second half—dominated the world’s top-ranked team. The U.S. will head to its record fourth World Cup final, while the Germans will have to settle for the third-place consolation match and remain stuck on three Women’s World Cup final appearances. The U.S. will also be going for a record third Women's World Cup trophy.

The Americans dominated much of the game, but looked like they were going to concede first after Julie Johnston pulled down injured German midfielder Alexandra Popp in the box in what many thought could have been a red card. Fortunately for the Americans, Johnston—who has been one of the best players for the U.S. at this tournament—was only given a yellow and Germany’s star striker Celia Sasic sent the ensuing penalty kick wide left. The U.S. had even more luck when Alex Morgan was taken down by German defender Annike Krahn just outside the penalty area, and the ref again pointed to the spot. Carli Lloyd buried the penalty for her third goal in as many games to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead and they never looked back.

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Lloyd helped put the icing on the cake in the 84th minute, beating a defender in the box and delivering a perfect cross to the streaking Kelley O’Hara, who scored to put the game out of reach.

The U.S. will play the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between England and Japan in the World Cup final on Sunday, which you might recall is the day after Independence Day. Here’s hoping that England wins, so we can beat them again.

June 30 2015 8:33 PM

The USA-Germany Semifinal Just Proved Why FIFA Needs a Better Concussion Protocol

About 28 minutes into the Women's World Cup semifinal between Germany and the United States on Tuesday, German midfielder Alexandra Popp and American midfielder Morgan Brian competed to head a ball near the U.S. goal area—and they ended up heading each other in a nasty, forceful collision. Both players remained on the ground for several minutes, and though Popp's injury looked worse, thanks to copious blood, Brian looked truly dazed when she finally stood up.

Amazingly—or not so amazingly, if you know anything about the way head injuries are usually handled in professional soccer matches—both players were quickly back on the pitch soon after play continued a few minutes later, Popp's hair streaked with blood, Brian's expression still not looking right, in the words of USWNT alum Julie Foudy. It's too early to know how serious the players' injuries were, but it's obvious that if FIFA had a sane, reasonable concussion protocol, neither would have resumed play so quickly. Unfortunately, nothing is likely to change as long as FIFA continues to get a free pass from its broadcaster, Fox Sports. During halftime, Fox analyst and former Germany player Ariane Hingst said “she looked like she was concussed, but well done by the players to stay on and play.” No, that is the opposite of well done.

June 26 2015 11:47 PM

The U.S. Is Just Two Wins Away from Promised Land after Beating China

People have been hard on the United States at this World Cup. After the U.S. women’s national team defeated Australia 3-1, a cheeky Australian team blogger commented on how sluggish the Americans looked. Earlier this week, Deadspin’s Billy Haisley noted that the team—short on offensive creativity and long on desperately pumping the ball forward to the aging Abby Wambach—needed to “evolve or die.” Haisley, in watching the Americans eke past 10-woman Colombia 2-0 in the last 16, was reminded of Brazil’s tired, uninspired performances at last year’s men’s World Cup before they were ultimately humiliated 7-1 in the semifinals to eventual champions Germany (I had the same thought). In my own incredulous write-up of that Colombia match, I said that the American fans were getting used to these unconvincing wins and the team needed to fix the offense before it was too late.

While one game was never going to provide the necessary longterm evolution Haisley described, the United States showed enough offensive improvement in a 1-0 quarterfinals victory over China on Friday to give the most skeptical fans among us something we haven’t had all tournament: hope.

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That hope relied on U.S. coach Jill Ellis being forced to meddle with her line-up in the last eight. In addition to the midfield changes she had to make because of the suspensions of 2015 World Cup star Megan Rapinoe and regular starter Lauren Holiday, Ellis finally did what she had to do and moved all-time U.S. leading scorer Abby Wambach—who has been one of the biggest disappointments at this tournament—to the bench. Wambach’s replacement, Amy Rodriguez, missed some excellent early chances, including an absolute howler on a one-on-one chip attempt in the third minute. But her pace and ability to hold the ball for long stretches in the U.S. attacking third helped establish the tone of the game, which was dominated by the United States from the outset.

While the team wasn’t able to break through in the first half, the way they controlled possession made it only a matter of time before they’d score. Abby Wambach may have helped inspire the breakthrough—and may have found her new, best calling for this team—with a rousing and prophetic halftime prediction that in the "first 10 minutes we get a fucking goal."

Of course in the 51st minute, Carli Lloyd—making her 200th appearance for the United States—scored on a lovely header past the diving Chinese goalkeeper Wang Fei. For Lloyd, who was also responsible for setting up what should have been a goal on that blown opening chance by Rodriguez, it was her second score in as many games and the most important one of the tournament so far for the Americans. It would be the game-winner. While Lloyd’s performance was impressive, she was outshone by the woman who set up that score on Friday: Julie Johnston. The defender has been one of the American standouts at this tournament. In addition to setting up Lloyd’s goal with a beautiful deep ball, she was tenacious both on the defensive end of the ball and in helping to press the Chinese in their own half. Johnston had two of her own scoring opportunities, and generally made life difficult for the Chinese women on every part of the pitch. As U.S. men's national team forward Jozy Altidore put it, Johnston was "beast mode."

Johnston has been one of the anchors of a U.S. defense that hasn’t given up a goal since the first game of the tournament, claiming a Women’s World Cup team record scoreless streak of 423 straight minutes.* Prior to Friday’s slight offensive surge, that defensive line—along with star goalkeeper Hope Solo—have been the main argument for those who wanted to contend that the U.S. could defeat the best teams in the world and claim this title. Ali Krieger, one of the other anchors of that defense, joined Johnston in marauding mode and nearly added her own goal in the second half, drilling an amazing shot from distance that just hit the post.

The United States will need similar pressure to defeat No. 1 ranked Germany, their opponent in the semifinals. The Germans advanced on Friday to the last four by beating an impressive French team 5-4 in a penalty shootout after coming from behind and playing out a 1-1 draw. France, whose flowing attack was one of the most entertaining things about the contest and had been one of the best things to watch at this World Cup, easily deserve to be in the next round. It is only by an intentionally stupid FIFA draw that the Group F winners and world No. 3 ranked team were forced to play the Germans so early in the knockout round—the incompetent soccer governing put two of the best three teams in the same quarter of the bracket in order to goose ratings and ticket sales.

France versus Germany could have easily been a World Cup final and it would have been a worthy one. Let’s hope the same is true of the United States’ next match against the Germans on Tuesday. History bodes well for that—in each of the three previous times the two teams have met at the Women's World Cup, the winner has gone on to claim the title. At this point it seems almost certain that the United States will stave off anything even resembling Brazil’s embarrassment against Germany in last year’s men’s World Cup semifinal. But to do more than that—to overcome the toughest team of this tournament—the Americans will need every bit of creative spark they showed against China, and then some. Then again—with Hope Solo in net—maybe all the Americans will need to do is extend that record scoreless streak for a mere 120 more minutes and hope for the best.

Correction, June 30, 2015, 9:55 p.m.: This post originally misstated that the team claimed a Women's World Cup record scoreless streak.

June 25 2015 6:01 PM

World Cup Jerkwatch: Is Abby Wambach the Greatest Jerk in American Soccer History?

Name: Abby Wambach

Home country: USA

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Known for: Captaining, complaining, being hardheaded.

Why she might be a jerk: The U.S. women’s national team won a tough round of 16 World Cup match on Monday, defeating Colombia 2-0 in a game that saw team captain Abby Wambach botch a penalty kick against a third-string goalkeeper and get caught in an offside position for what might have been an easy goal. Instead of being happy to walk away victorious from a game her team could conceivably have lost due to her ineptitude, Wambach publicly theorized that a French referee may have been conspiring against the USWNT when she awarded yellow cards that will force two other U.S. stars to sit in Friday’s quarterfinals (the French team is in the same half of the bracket as the Americans):

I don't know if they were yellows. It seemed like [French referee Stephanie Frappart] was purposefully giving those yellows to maybe players that she knew were sitting on yellows. I don't know if that was just a psychological thing, who knows. Who knows.

The only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner. And the only thing worse than a sore winner is a sore winner who blames externalities for dragging down the team while failing to realize that she’s actually the one doing the dragging. Wambach has been slow and bad during this year’s World Cup, and while you can’t blame an athlete for getting old, you can blame her for not realizing it, especially when her self-denial works to the detriment of a team built offensively around her.

Sportsmanship aside, the claim that the ref was out to get the Americans is bogus—the U.S. was awarded two penalty kicks in the game and Colombia had a goalkeeper sent off. Also, it wasn’t the first time at this tournament that Wambach had blamed external factors in a way that distracted from her own poor performance: After missing multiple headers in the team’s first two games, Wambach said she would have scored, but she didn’t want to lay out her body on the artificial turf. (The turf problem is a legitimate issue, and one that arugably indicates sexism at FIFA, given that the men’s World Cup is played on real grass. But when Wambach mentioned it, the time for using it as an excuse had already passed.) Anyway, not only were her conspiratorial comments inartful and lacking self-awareness, they also placed her at risk of her own suspension ahead of the crucial game against China.

Wambach had already left her club team in the lurch earlier this year when she abruptly announced during training camp that she was going to skip the season in order to train for the World Cup. That’s a pretty jerky move, but it would’ve been understandable if Wambach planned to devote all her time to some intense training regimen involving, like, hyperbaric tents and ultramarathoning. Instead, according to the New York Times, Wambach’s World Cup preparation apparently consisted of running around her neighborhood, playing pickup games at the Nike complex in Oregon, and playing golf. This is the training routine of a retired person, and is somewhat comparable to the pre-World Cup activities that saw men’s star Landon Donovan left off of the U.S. men’s World Cup team in 2014.

Wambach has been open about how her “emotional devotion” to soccer declined after her marriage to girlfriend Sarah Huffman. It’s admirable to admit that you’re not as committed to something as you once were. It’s sort of jerky to then keep on doing that same thing anyway, only in a less-capable, more half-assed manner, especially when there are plenty of other qualified players out there who would love an opportunity to play on the world’s biggest stage.

In that same Times article, Wambach portrayed herself as the only player on her team willing to take the big risks needed to be great. “Why do you think I score?” she asked Jeré Longman:

“Because people are a little bit scared,” she said, referring to the pressure. “They’re like: ‘I’m going to pump that ball up to Wambach, see what happens. I don’t want to play this little 5-yard ball, because if I pass it and it gets picked off and we get scored on, then it’s my fault.’ The nerves and stress make people play a little more direct, make them play a little ‘Let’s just pump the ball in there; this is a safer play.’ And I just make stuff happen.”

On Monday, Wambach shanked a penalty kick that she should have made after having blown an earlier scoring opportunity. Sure, Wambach is an all-time great, and sure she scored one goal at this tournament. But these days she most resembles that really loud, annoying, over-the-hill superstar whose mouth writes checks that her abilities can’t cash.

Why she might not be a jerk: If Wambach is a jerk—and I’m not convinced that she is—it’s in a very different manner than the other jerks I’ve featured. When Hope Solo acts like a jerk, she is basically just saying “I am a mess.” When Edwin Okon does it, he’s saying “I am overmatched.” Abby Wambach’s purportedly jerky behavior is basically just her saying “I am an intense competitor who wants to win.” And there are a lot of professional athletes who fit that mold. Perhaps the famous sports jerk she most resembles is the notoriously aggro Kobe Bryant, who, like Wambach, is also getting old and bad and isn’t dealing with it particularly well. The line between “competitor” and “jerk” is thin, and if Wambach’s demeanor seems more annoying now that she’s not as good as she once was, well, at least she’s not going around calling her teammates “Charmin Soft” and gratuitously yelling at Jeremy Lin. Also, to Wambach’s credit, she later apologized for questioning the referee’s integrity, saying “that is something I take ownership of and apologize for because I don't know what the referee is thinking.” Finally, I’d just like to point out that Wambach is responsible for the classic YouTube video “Abby Wambach Hits Guy Carrying Hot Dog.” That might actually be evidence that she is a jerk, but I like to think that Guy Carrying Hot Dog had it coming. Take that, Guy Carrying Hot Dog!

Jerk score: I’ll give her 2 out of 3 for style, based on her teammates' descriptions of her intensely awkward pregame motivational speeches. 1 out of 3 for technique, because no conspiracy theory these days is truly complete without a reference to WTC7. 1 out of 3 for consistency, because a true jerk would have also eaten the guy’s hot dog. And 1 out of 1 in the category of “Did I train for the Women’s World Cup by playing golf?” 5 out of 10 for Abby Wambach.

June 23 2015 3:20 PM

The Norwegian Soccer Team’s Timely Response to Sexist Stereotypes

During a women’s World Cup already plagued by gender disparities and run by an organization headed by a noted sexist, Sports Illustrated writer Andy Benoit decided he had something important to add. The NFL analyst tweeted on Monday night that his personal disinterest in women’s sports spoke to a universal truth.

Benoit Tweets
Screenshot of Andy Benoit's tweets from June 22. They have since been deleted.

Supporters, both male and female, of women’s soccer were quick to offer some snark and stats in response to Benoit’s sexism:

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Benoit took down his tweets, and it remains to be seen if Sports Illustrated might reprimand him for his short-sightedness. Unfortunately, his dismissive opinion is merely an echo of what sports media already shouts. It’s not news that the media is way less interested in women’s sports than men’s, but a new report about the stark discrepancy in the type of coverage male and female athletes get is startling. The University of Southern California’s study detailing those discrepancies—called “It’s Dude Time!”—reviews 25 years of women’s sports broadcasting to show how little television coverage has improved over the last quarter-century. The researchers found that “women’s sports are rarely covered, and when female athletes are interviewed in any depth, it’s to portray them as mothers or girlfriends, stressing those roles over their roles as athletes.”

The problem goes beyond just female athletes, with women in sports journalism lacking representation in significant numbers: “In [a] 2014 study, women made up less than 5 percent of sports anchors and 14.4 percent of ancillary sports reporters.” With more female analysts, we’d certainly have a better chance of tackling the sexist culture Benoit represents.  

Professional women’s soccer players are, unfortunately, used to the chorus of doubters. Norway’s national team—which crashed out of the tournament in the last 16 after a 2–1 loss to England on Monday—recently decided to take the naysayers head on. Last week, they released a clip satirizing all the familiar stereotypes about women and sports.

The documentary-style video features mock interviews with star players about their supposed struggles with soccer: The sport is boring, they don’t understand basic rules, and the hottest player had to switch from a team “teeming” with lesbians. Out of desperation, they reached out to Sepp Blatter, asking for changes to the sport to make it easier. But their requests—for a smaller, lighter ball, free throws instead of free kicks, gadgets to help the goalie, and a tee for free kicks—were unmet. This sarcastic takedown of sexist stereotypes is the perfect putdown to common misconceptions.

If you want to see what the Norwegian women’s soccer team is really like, check out this amazing free kick by Maren Mjelde from one of their first games. That should, but probably won’t, persuade Benoit and others like him of their ignorance, but it certainly proves him wrong.

June 22 2015 11:41 PM

Wambach Disappoints Again as the United States Marches Into World Cup Quarterfinals

It was not very convincing, but American fans are getting used to not very convincing. The United States advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals with a 2–0 victory over 10-woman Colombia on Monday after wearing down another inferior opponent despite another mixed-bag first-half team performance and another mediocre showing from star striker Abby Wambach.

The second-ranked Americans will go on to face China for the first time at a World Cup since the 1999 final, when Brandi Chastain buried the penalty kick that clinched the U.S. its last title. 

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The U.S. will have to beat the Chinese women without their best player of this tournament, Megan Rapinoe, who will have to sit out the next game after earning her second yellow card of the World Cup. Lauren Holiday, another star American midfield performer in Canada, will also miss out on the next game after receiving her second yellow card of the event on a controversial first-half call.

Even with the two absent midfielders, the United States will be overwhelming favorites against No. 16 China in the next round, with ESPN’s advanced analytics giving them an 88 percent chance to advance. That seems like a reasonable prediction considering the United States hasn’t dropped a match against China in 24 straight games, a streak running back to 2003.

Part of the reason the Americans are so favored is their depth, and coach Jill Ellis has already said that 32-cap midfielder Morgan Brian will replace Holiday. Meanwhile, dangerous, young attacking players Sydney Leroux and Christen Press will both be available to play for Rapinoe should America choose to emphasize a pressing style with an extra forward.

But beating Colombia is not what the U.S. came to this tournament to do—it came to win the entire thing. And despite an impressive defensive run of not having conceded in more than 330 minutes, if and when the United States reach the last four, it will need some more offense.

Looking ahead, past China lies either the top-ranked team in the world and one of the most imposing teams at this World Cup in Germany, or the third-ranked team in the world and one of the teams with the most flair at this tournament in France. Les Bleues have scored nine goals thus far, while the Germans have scored 19 goals. As a reminder, the U.S. has only scored six goals at this entire event. That includes a 0–0 draw with Sweden, a team the Germans demolished 4–1 in their last 16 matchup.

The American offensive woes extended throughout a tough first half in its own round of 16 match, in which upstart Colombia played like the world-beaters it entered claiming to be. The U.S. did have three great early opportunities to score, but second-string Colombian goalkeeper Catalina Perez came up with three huge saves. The first one, a lunging save of a distant blast from the very-fun-to-watch Tobin Heath, should have resulted in a rebound goal, but Wambach's subsequent shot into the back of the net was disallowed after she was caught for an obvious offside.

Wambach’s struggles continued in the second half when, in the 49th minute, she fired a left-footed penalty kick well wide of the mark. Fortunately for the United States, that penalty was set up by an illegal sliding challenge of Alex Morgan in a one-on-one situation—set up by a beautiful long ball from Rapinoe—that Perez sent off.

The Americans were able to play almost the entire second half 11 versus 10, and Colombia, already heavy underdogs, were forced to rely on third-string keeper Stefany Castaño. Despite the team's first-half ineffectualness, America’s well-conditioned attack made it look easy against the 21-year-old from Bogotá, as Ali Krieger slipped in a pass behind the Colombian defense just four minutes after Wambach’s miss, and Morgan calmly finished for her third-ever World Cup goal and first as a starter.*

From there, Rapinoe almost earned another penalty—slaloming through the Colombian penalty area and getting taken down by two defenders—before getting a deserved penalty call minutes later on a hard tackle deep in the area. This time Rapinoe’s efforts were not wasted, and Carli Lloyd buried the penalty with ease.

Despite the win and another impressive defensive display that kept star goalkeeper Hope Solo from having to do much work at all, the United States have still yet to look like the best team in this tournament, never mind like a team that should reach the final in Vancouver one day after Independence Day.

As mentioned, a big part of that has been Wambach’s disappointing performances, which she has at times blamed on the fact that the Cup is being played on turf—a disappointing problem indeed, for which it’s impossible not to impute sexism by FIFA, but one that the better players at this tournament have managed without complaint.

After the game, Wambach seemed again to subtly nod to this poor excuse when discussing why the Americans haven’t been scoring. “Goals don’t come easy for many different reasons so you have to take the goals where you can get them,” she said on Fox Sports.

It might be time to start playing young guns Leroux and Press together—as the team did in its opening 3–1 victory over surprise quarterfinalists Australia—and maybe leave the nation’s 35-year-old all-time-leading scorer to come off the bench if the Americans want to find their offensive spark before it’s too late.

Correction, 2:15 p.m., June 23, 2015: This post originally misstated that a Tobin Heath pass set up Alex Morgan's goal.

June 22 2015 9:03 AM

Who Won the Women’s World Cup of Arm-Folding?

Watching the 2015 Women’s World Cup has been an exciting ride. Viewers got to cheer for more teams than have competed than ever before, including eight debutants. We’ve watched the world’s best female footballers score masterful goals (including two games featuring multiple hat tricks). And we’ve witnessed, once again, the repeated triumph of hundreds of elite athletes turning 90 degrees while folding their arms.

As with their male counterparts last year, the arm-fold is the means by which Women’s World Cup players introduce themselves to the estimated 1 billion people watching around the globe. It's the arm-fold that determines whether a player comes across as the life of the party (like Ecuador’s Denise Pesantes) or as someone who’s dying to get away from a conversation with a mansplainer (like Japan’s Saori Ariyoshi).

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For a gesture that takes literally two seconds, a decent arm-fold requires surprisingly precise timing. There’s a fine line between folding your arms too quickly (like Mexico’s Kenti Robles), folding your arms too slowly (like Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala), and folding your arms way too slowly (like Cameroon’s Raissa Feudjio).

In the men’s World Cup, my colleague Dan Kois wrote last year, “The primary issue is where your hands should go.” This remains an open question in this year’s World Cup. Wayward fingers undermine the integrity of the pose for Josée Bélanger of Canada, peeking out from behind her tricep for a distracting second. And Australian Stephanie Catley’s attempt to adjust her hands underneath her arms makes her arms look oddly jiggly, as if made not of rock-hard muscle but of Jell-O.

So the key, clearly, is to be decisive about finger and hand placement. But this still leaves players with lots of choices. Choices like cradling your fists inside your elbows (à la Canada’s Adriana Leon), or shoving your hands, Mary Katherine Gallagher-like, into your armpits (as does Angela Clavijo of Colombia). You could show off all your fingers, like Dzsenifer Marozsán of Germany, or you could present an alluring mystery: Does Tan Ruyin of China even have fingers?!

Even when you nail the technical aspects—timing, sequence, limb placement—there remains a question of attitude. Do you want to fold your arms in a friendly manner, or do you want to use the opportunity to show off what a badass you are? A majority of players in this year’s tournament elect to smile, like Brazil’s Monica, who beams with the satisfaction of a teenager in an after-school special who’s just dissuaded her best friend from trying drugs. But there’s a fine line between Monica's confident smile and the forced, desperate grin of her teammate Luciana, who looks as though she's posing for an elementary school portrait.

To avoid ambiguous signals, some players keep their faces stern. In the best cases, serious expressions convey confidence, competence, and a hint of intimidation, like Wendie Renard of France.

But this tactic can also have unfortunate results, as with Norwegian Ingrid Moe Wold, who looks like a robot learning how to act human, or American Hope Solo, who is flat-out terrifying.

To be fair, not all arm-folding mishaps are a result of players’ actions. England captain Steph Houghton’s arm-fold is most memorable for the cameraperson’s apparent failure to adjust the angle of the camera to fit her height.

So who successfully navigates the rocky shoals of turning to the left and folding one’s arms? American captain Abby Wambach’s experience in the international arena shows in her arm-fold, which is pure, unruffled swagger. And newcomer Cathy Bou Ndjouh of Cameroon leaves no doubts as to her professionalism with her arm-fold, which is powerful and poised.

Some players let their arm-fold convey their sheer joy at being at the World Cup—players like Dutch skipper Mandy van den Berg, who radiates a sense of accomplishment, and Colombian defender Nataly Arias, who shows off a hundred-watt smile worthy of a homecoming queen.

I’m partial to the pithy, self-assured arm-fold of Ji Soyun of South Korea, who resembles nothing so much as a 1950s television superhero.

But even better than these fine examples is the sly, conspiratorial arm-fold of Costa Rica captain Shirley Cruz. Cruz turns and folds her arms as though to say, “You and I both know this is silly, but this is the biggest women’s sporting event in the world. Let’s try to make the most of it, shall we?” Shirley Cruz wins the Women’s World Cup of Arm-Folding.

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