LONDON -- This Olympic soccer game didn't require resuscitation or a fully enabled oxygen body suit, and for that, I am grateful. After all, how many Canada semifinal games can one take in a lifetime? (In truth, I'd take them every day.) Instead, Thursday's Olympic gold-medal final between the United States and Japan was about two teams looking to penetrate and break down defenses, as 80,203 people cheered loudly for both teams within the historic grounds of Wembley Stadium.
Yes, both. At times, it was a "U-S-A" chant; other times, it was a chorus of "Nippon! Nippon!" It wasn't that this crowd had a split personality; it just appreciated good soccer. And unlikely heroes. Cue the music and soft lights ...
... enter Carli Lloyd.
Carli is a veteran of two World Cups and two Olympics, so this was not her first rodeo. But she did find herself in an unfamiliar position when the U.S. team opened this tournament -- she was on the bench. Remember, this was the Olympic hero from the 2008 Beijing Games. Carli scored the only goal in a 1-0 overtime win against Brazil in that final to lead the team to a gold medal.
But on that opening night July 25 in Glasgow, Lauren Cheney and Shannon Boxx were given the nod to start in central midfield against France. As fate would have it, Carli was brought in for an injured Boxx just 17 minutes in and the United States already two goals down. Just more than 30 minutes later, she scored the eventual game winner, putting the Americans in the lead 3-2. It was as if she said to U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, "Do you want to rethink this bench thing?"
Carli embraced the moment, and then some. She has played with confidence, fire and gutsy performances in these Olympics, and on Thursday night against Japan, she was like a woman possessed, a woman scorned, a woman out to prove she still belonged on that starting list of 11, here in London and beyond. And I, for one, loved her feistiness.
Carli lifted the team on her shoulders on a night when it was most needed; on a night when the U.S. was rightfully tired from Monday's semifinal thriller; on a night when hit crossbars, big saves and no-called handballs were the stuff of soccer god legend. Those soccer gods were surely smiling at this final. And why wouldn't they? This team performed on that mystical stage with an unwavering sense of purpose, finishing a script it began writing after its heartbreaking Women's World Cup final loss.
The difference this time around is the story ends with a sunset, "Chariots of Fire" music (of course) and champions all around. Congrats, Team USA.