By Whitey Kapsalis, author of To Chase a Dream (Meyer & Meyer Sport 2014)
In my 45 years of being around soccer as a player, parent and coach, I’ve seen many unfortunate events that lead to losses (missed PK’s, blown saves, near misses and even own goals), but I’ve never witnessed a more disheartening loss than what I saw yesterday while watching the England/Japan game. England had surprised all fans of the World Cup and has riveted a nation on their journey throughout the World Cup, and on Thursday night, they played like World Champions. Once again they rose to the challenge of underdog and outplayed a Japan team that is defending World Cup Champions. A few England near misses (a shot off the crossbar, a header that just went outside the far post and a diving save by the Japanese Goalkeeper) kept this game even at 1-1. But England had all the momentum heading into the inevitable overtime period. And then it happened…an own goal by England in the 93rd minute erased the tie and eliminated England from the World Cup. Japan advances to face the US in the Final on Sunday. What was more riveting to me, however, was the reaction of the England Coach and players after this crushing defeat. They talked about how proud they were of each other, how they have inspired a nation, how they have allowed young girls back home to dream, how proud they were to wear the England jersey and how proud they are of their teammate (the teammate who score the own goal), calling her the rock of the team, the heart and soul and how they never would have even gotten this without her as the central defender. Dealing with adversity is not easy and I’m not sure how long it will take her to get over this unfortunate and accidental mistake, but with the undeniable support, friendship and love from her teammates (and country), she will move on and she will be better for it. This is what makes the World Cup special for these Women and special for the fans…they play for their country, they play for each other and they play for themselves…in that order. This unselfish approach to a team game makes these games so entertaining as these Women give everything they have in every minute of every game. The US Team portrays that more than any team in the world. We are fortunate to be able to witness England’s response of pride, unity and support in one of the most adverse moments in each of their lives, as an example of how we should react when adversity comes into our own lives. I feel bad for England, but they will go home to a country that will forever embrace this team, even though they came up short. These same qualities that I’ve described for England are the exact same qualities that make our own US Team so special. They will play their hearts out every minute of the Final against Japan, just as they’ve done in every game prior, in an effort to inspire a nation, inspire young girls to dream and accomplish a goal that has eluded them since 1999…this country will embrace these Women when it is all over…and rightfully so. A refreshing sporting event…World Cup, World Class.