Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Donovan's goal vs Wambach's goal (and the '99 US Women's team)

Over the last couple days, since the great US comeback against Brazil, I've been in discussion with a couple friends (@ben_wagner and @prestonvjohnson) about the comparisons between Landon Donovan's game winning goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, and Abby Wambach's equalizing goal against Brazil in the 2011 Women's World Cup.

For those of you who don't remember, I will give a quick synopsis of the Donovan situation. The US needed to win their last group game against Algeria, and they would go through to the knockout stages of the World Cup (and with a little help from England, they could clinch first in the group). The game was 0-0 going into the 90th minute, then this happened:

England then went on to beat Slovenia, which gave us top spot in the group on goals scored. We moved on to the round of 16 to face Ghana, where we were knocked out of the World Cup, when we lost 2-1.

Just two days ago, the US Women's team faced Brazil in the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup. After taking an early 1-0 lead, the US went down a man, and then later, down a goal. They faced elimination, just as the men faced a year before. The game approached the end of the second period of extra time and then this happened:

Wambach's goal marked an unbelievable comeback by the US side, but sent the game only to penalties. Hope Solo became the hero again as she made a big save on one of the Brazilian spotkicks, allowing the US to finish off Brazil and advance to the semifinals of the tournament.

I think it is impossible to say one goal is more dramatic than the other, because each had it's individual elements. Also, I am partly biased because I was in attendance as Donovan put his goal past the Algerian keeper. I know what happened in that stand after the goal went in, and that was beyond any feeling I've ever experienced for a sporting event in my life (even better than the '99 Final, which I attended as well). However, when you look at the significance of each goal, I feel that Donovan's goal played a bigger part.

1) What did each of those goals give their respective teams?
          US Men: Donovan's goal ended the game and locked 1st place in the group, something that the US Men's National Team had never done before in their history. 
          US Women: Wambach's goal equalized the quarterfinal, and sent the game to penalties, where one Hope Solo save, and 5 nicely taken penalties, sent the US to the semifinals (a place the US has achieved in every single Women's World Cup to date)

2) Without each goal, where would both teams have stood (ST and LT)?
          US Men: Eliminated from the tournament in the group stage, after being near locks to make the knockout round, but not favored to do much after that (ST). Bob Bradley had a lot of pressure to do well in this tournament, and he would have likely been fired. Players like Donovan, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Howard, DeMerit would have been questioned and possibly slowly weeded out as "too old" or "not good enough" for the National Team on a big stage (LT).
          US Women: Eliminated from the tournament in the quarterfinals, for the first time in World Cup history  (ST). But they lost 4 years prior to Brazil, in the semifinals, so it wouldn't have been that big of a shock had Brazil won. The US team has a fairly young team, and I doubt their coach would have got much backlash, seeing the poor officiating that occurred against Brazil. Germany, 2 time defending champions, and hosts, had already been upset, so the US loss wouldn't have even been close to the loss of the Germans (LT).

3) In comparison to historical events, where did these goals put the respective teams? 
          US Men: The US Men have never won a World Cup, and since 1954 (when the tournament expanded to 16 teams) the US hasn't made it past the quarterfinals. On a world stage, the US doesn't match up with many teams, and is consistently ranked somewhere between 10-25. Not that FIFA rankings are the only determining factor, but based on that alone, any knockout round appearance has to be seen as a positive for the US, and this was only the 3rd time in the last 5 World Cups that the US made it past the group stages.
          US Women: The US Women have never been knocked out of the World Cup before the semifinals, and they have won the entire tournament on two previous occasions (1991 and 1999). We all know the dramatics of '99: hosting the tournament for the first time, selling out big stadiums around the country, the Final vs China at the Rose Bowl, and winning in penalties. The US/China game in 1999 got a 13.3 Neilsen Rating, where the US/Brazil game got a 2.6 rating. While the dramatics may have been close to equalizing the 1999 Final, the significance and importance of the US/Brazil game to the American public is nowhere close to the game in 1999.

While many people argue that the goal by Abby Wambach is a bigger goal than the one scored by Landon Donovan, it is nothing new to the US team. They are the #1 ranked team in the world, and were second favorites to win the tournament (behind Germany). They had to face a tougher team like Brazil because of their group stage slip ups, but they were still favored to beat Brazil. Although they made it more difficult on themselves than hoped, they got the expected result. Donovan's goal reached marks for the Men's National Team that had never been achieved before. The historical significance and importance to that team outweighs that of the Wambach goal.