It was a game that will forever live on in memory or infamy, depending on which side of the U.S.-Canada border you reside on. For many Americans, Monday's 4-3 extra-time win over Canada in the Olympic women's soccer semifinals represented a heroic comeback and their team's ability to fight through adversity, but many Canadians saw it as the worst screwjob since that one in Montreal. However, regardless of where you live or where you stand on the officiating in Monday's match, it's worth recognizing this semifinal as an incredible game and potentially a huge step forwards for women's soccer around the globe.
[Slideshow: Canada falls to the US in extra time]
There's undoubtedly going to be a lot of hue and cry about the officiating from Canadian fans and media, and to a degree, that's fair. Two calls in particular changed the course of this game. One was a handball against Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. that went uncalled, while the other was apparently a delay-of-game call on Canadian keeper Erin McLeod, which led to an indirect free kick in the box, which resulted in a handball, which resulted in Abby Wambach's equalizing goal that sent the game to extra time. The non-call on Rapinoe was objected to by many Canadians, and they have a point, but those sorts of plays happen in every match and some of them are invariably missed. The call against McLeod was much stranger, as it's extremely rare to see a keeper called for hanging on to the ball for six seconds or more at the international level, and it will certainly be the focus of much of the Canadian criticism.
The Canadian team, obviously devastated by the loss, didn't pull any punches in its criticism of Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen.
"It felt like it was America and the referee against (the Canadians)", coach John Herdman told reporters. "She'll have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replays, she's got that to live with. We'll move on from this, I wonder if she'll be able to."
Christine Sinclair, whose three-goal performance amazingly took a back seat to the curious officiating decisions, supported her coach's comments. "We feel like we didn't lose," said soccer's Captain Canada. "We feel like it was taken from us. It's a shame in a game like that, which is so important that the ref decided the result before the game started."
It's worth pointing out that it wasn't just officiating that lost Canada the match, though. A crucial mistake came on the Americans' first goal, a Megan Rapinoe corner that somehow went through Lauren Sesselmann's legs and beat McLeod across the line, and even the later call on McLeod wouldn't necessarily have led to a goal if Canada hadn't committed a handball on the ensuing free kick. McLeod also must bear some of the blame for hanging on to the ball; even if that's rarely ever called at this level, there's something to be said for making it so the refs can't get after you. (There were questionable calls that went Canada's way, too, including plenty of non-called fouls in what followed expectations and turned into a very physical match, and it's not the ref's fault that the Canadian defence collapsed at the end of extra time to let Alex Morgan score the game-winning goal.) Thus, although you can make a strong case that Canada might have won this match without the call against McLeod, there were other things that went wrong and other opportunities to triumph. Refereeing may well have been a factor, but it wasn't the only one involved.
[Related: Christine Sinclair Canada's Olympic hero]
The sad thing is that while this match is going to go down in U.S. legend, the controversy and the ending may diminish for many what was an incredible effort on the part of the Canadian team. Canadian superstar Christine Sinclair played perhaps the most impressive match of her career, notching a hat trick with three beautiful goals, more than any other individual player's career total against famed American keeper Hope Solo. The rest of the team was generally incredible too, with Desiree "The Destroyer" Scott flying around and winning balls in midfield, Melissa Tancredi and Sophie Schmidt doing brilliantly to set Sinclair up and even Sesselmann and McLeod playing tremendously apart from the aforementioned mistakes.
The Americans put on an incredible effort, too, with Wambach threatening constantly up front, Rapinoe dominating play on the wings and scoring two goals and Morgan executing brilliantly down the stretch. Solo made some excellent saves, Sydney Leroux threatened as a substitute and the midfield turned in an incredible battle. The U.S. and Canada put on an absolute show Monday in one of the best women's matches ever played, and the reaction across Twitter from even those who don't normally follow soccer demonstrated that it didn't go unnoticed. These teams showed just how great women's soccer can be, and maybe that will help boost the profile of the sport, which could surely use it following the collapse of Women's Professional Soccer.
There's lots to take pride in here for Canada. The seventh-ranked Canadian team was a huge underdog here against the top-ranked Americans, having failed to beat them since 2001 and only having three wins against them all time, and they came incredibly, tantalizingly close. They still have a shot at bronze, and that's well worth playing for, but many of these women played the match of their lives Monday. They didn't come away with the win, and questions about what might have been may always overshadow this in Canadian memories, but what these women accomplished is still impressive despite the result. The Theatre of Dreams may have seen a nightmarish ending for Canada, and the officiating may have been a part of that, but it should also be remembered that this was a fantastic clash between two great teams, and one that could have gone either way. It also might just be one that could help boost women's soccer globally, and that's something partisans on both sides of the border should agree is desirable.
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