Loud And Confident Americans Make More Noise In Victory

MONTREAL, Quebec -- Americans are naturally loud. Just ask German coach Silvia Neid, who said as much before Tuesday's Women's World Cup semifinal in expressing a measure of dissatisfaction with sharing a hotel not only with the United States national team but a portion of the red, white and blue masses who follow it. But the artificial amplification provided by the roof of Olympic Stadium didn't make things any easier on sensitive ears.

Put the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup finals, move Game 7 from that team's home to this aging, charm-free monument to concrete and the decibel level wouldn't rise above what 51,176 fans sounded like when Carli Lloyd put a penalty kick past Nadine Angerer in the second half of the game between the United States and Germany.

This was tens of thousands of Americans at their loudest, at least until Lloyd's cross found Kelley O'Hara in front of goal late in the second half to seal victory.

It was also 11 Americans at their most confident. Germany's coach mentioned that part, too, before the game, how Americans are "so very convinced about themselves."

Sometimes all the conviction in the world just makes you wrong. Loud wrong. Or it takes you to a Women's World Cup final after a 2-0 win against the world's top-ranked team.

"We had every belief that we could win this game," said United States coach Jill Ellis, herself a product of England. "And that's part of the spirit of the American player."

Before we give player of the match to Uncle Sam, Ellis also left out the part she should, after receiving plenty of criticism throughout this tournament, get credit for. Her team had the right tactics against Germany. For the first time since December, the U.S. started Morgan Brian, Lauren Holiday and Carli Lloyd together in the midfield. That meant leaving Abby Wambach to the role of substitute for the second game in a row, but it allowed Brian to continue excelling in the defense-and-distribution role that suited neither Holiday nor Lloyd. That, in turn, allowed Lloyd to push higher on the field and gave the Americans the necessary numbers to hold the midfield against the Germans.

It was a concession to a tactical reality, even if it had been barely used before now.

"If you look at our games back all the way through January, we've been playing 4-4-2, and that's what we trained," Meghan Klingenberg said. "But honestly, our team is able to play in different formations because we're able to play in different positions. If you want to be a world-class team, you have to be able to do that. And that's what we want to be. We knew that our personnel suited a 4-2-3-1 against the Germans, and that's what we went into. I think it was a great call by the coaches, and it turned out well."

But formations, as Ellis likes to contend, mean little in a vacuum. The Americans played as well as they did in the new alignment because this is a team of versatile and talented parts but also because they believed they were going to beat Germany. Players spoke over and over again about how the history of the national team is one of teams finding a way. That doesn't exactly explain the 16-year drought when it comes to the World Cup, but it does say something about how they approach matters.

They believe that stuff. And belief has power.

The United States missed a number of chances in the first half, Julie Johnston's header on a corner kick and Alex Morgan's breakaway -- both saved by German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer -- the best of them. It then saw its World Cup hang by a thread when Alexandra Popp got the wrong side of Johnston on an artificial turf-bounce and the defender tugged her down to give away a penalty kick. But it caught one break when Johnston, again otherwise outstanding for a defense that has gone more than 500 minutes without conceding a goal, didn't see a red card. It caught another break when Celia Sasic sent the spot kick wide of the post with Hope Solo diving the opposite direction.

"After they missed their penalty kick, it felt like we couldn't lose," Klingenberg said.

Of course they could have. Either team could have won this game. One team did.

This isn't about jingoism, the notion that we are better at everything. This national team is itself proof of how much we can learn from the rest of the world, specifically Europe. Players such as Klingenberg and Christen Press are on the national team in large part because of how their games improved in Europe. Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe played valuable games in France. Results in youth World Cups and past senior tournaments show that American soccer must evolve, must develop the kind of technical skill that the rest of the world does if it wants to maintain its place of prominence in the women's game.

Ali Krieger is so much a part of two soccer worlds that she spoke in fluent German to that nation's media contingent before and after the semifinal. She took pains to point out that one identity isn't better than the other when she subsequently returned to her native tongue, but there is a confidence that is distinctly American.

It is the same thing people here and overseas talked about with the men's national team a year ago in that World Cup, the ability to at times ignore logic and believe that a deficit, a bad turn, anything can and will be overcome because that's not how our stories end.

They do end that way sometimes, of course, but only in that finality do we believe it.

"I'm not saying that players overseas don't have that, because I've absolutely played with players that have a must-win attitude," Klingenberg said. "But there is something different about this team, there is something special about it. If you watch us and if you see it and you see our style and the way that we go after teams, you could feel it. You could feel it tonight, I think, on the field. ...

"To me there is something absolutely special about the American mentality."

In the days leading up to the semifinal, American players went out of their way to show deference to Germany's place atop FIFA's world rankings. There wasn't an eye rolling or suggestion that those rankings are less than reliable. The Germans, who piled up goals early in this tournament and survived France in the quarterfinals, were No. 1. Which meant the Americans were, well, what?

"I don't think we ever necessarily feel like No. 2," Holiday said. "But we thought that Germany was an exceptional team, and I think they've shown that."

Give this team a chance to play the role of underdog, the quintessential American role, and then give them the tools to make it work. Lloyd's penalty kick, earned by Alex Morgan's industry (if not her precise placement inside the 18-yard box) and O'Hara's finish fit the script. Even in the modern game.

"It's not just about throwing out the best athletic players and putting them in whatever positions," Wambach said of the sport's evolution. "It's about tactics, it's about formations, it's about how we're going to play against a certain team."

The United States had all of that Tuesday night. It had the right lineup, the right plan and the right people to execute all of it. It also had that American confidence. And that gave a lot of fans a lot of reason to make a whole lot of noise.

They might have heard it all the way across the country in Vancouver.

It's the sound of Americans on the move.