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What a weekend! What was your highlight? Of course, there was the U.S. women’s World Cup victory. But for our family, the get-together we were able to arrange at Bayfront Festival Park Saturday for the Trampled By Turtles concert was off the scale.
It’s something of an annual thing by now, and the crowd that had to challenge the 20,000 mark filled the place, the once-Duluth-based Turtles put on a fantastic show. The preliminary acts were very good, and a whole new group of listeners got to be enthralled with the big stage debut of Gaelynn Lea. Trampled By Turtles, of course, is our own gang, and regulars at Bayfront. The five mainstays met while attending UMD from all sorts of disparate backgrounds, and now that they’ve added a sixth, also a Duluthian, plus some occasional strings, their show was better than ever.
Vocalist and ringleader Dave Simonett said, after a couple songs, that every year when they reassemble to play at Bayfront, “I realize this is my favorite place to play.” The crowd went crazy, and the show never wavered from excellence. People watching them for the 20th time, or the first time, were equally blown away.
Our long concert-dominated weekend included the Fourth Fest on Thursday, where we caught Superior Siren, a four-woman group with an interesting sound. Lead singer and songwriter Laura Sellner is on guitar, and she is backed by a cello, upright bass and drums for an intriguing sound. In case you don’t think Superior Siren is star-crossed in a positive way, the National Guard jets flyover swept by overhead just as they started; a guy on an ultralight power hang-glider later cruised by behind the stage, close enough to make a request; and, after a light rain shower missed us, heading over toward Wisconsin, a glorious rainbow arched down as if supplementing the stage lights. You can’t plan a show to include all that, and beautifully haunting songs, besides.
Speaking of shows, they weren’t all at Bayfront. Somebody named Matthew Wolff defied the big-name pros and won the 3M Open PGA golf tournament at TPC in the Twin Cities. Across the Atlantic, the incredible run of 15-year-old high schooler Coco Gauff finally ended in the fourth round of women’s tennis at Wimbledon, after she had upset Venus Williams and played with fantastic poise and skill as the newest sensation on the tennis circuit.
Most of the sports spotlight, however, was properly shone on the women’s predicted second straight championship in World Cup soccer — the second straight World Cup triumph for the U.S. The actual victory came down to a 2-0 championship game against The Netherlands, an orange-clad outfit making its first trip to the finals — compared to the U.S. team’s fourth time in eight World Cups. The powerful U.S. team battled through several controversies, most of them self-induced, and they did overcome tremendous pressure. It was the pressure to succeed, which happens to the favorites in any sport.
It hasn’t been that long that women’s soccer rose to the level of proper World Cup status, and while the U.S. was at the forefront of all sorts of equality breakthroughs, its soccer development structure thrust the U.S. into the upper echelon, far above some countries where sports officials weren’t very favorable to women playing “men’s sports.” That’s absurd. So is the fact that the U.S. women have to fight to get their share of the soccer revenue.
There have been eight women’s World Cups, and now the U.S. has won four of them. For that reason, they went into this year’s competition as the overwhelming favorite, which means as good as The Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, England and France were, all were hopeful but none was favored. So the U.S. had all the pressure of win or call the whole thing a failure.
However, that does not mean the U.S. team had license to flaunt their obvious superiority. But they went into it with what they called confidence, and which at least some of us saw as arrogance. And arrogance is never an attractive feature in sports. In men’s sports, the Montreal Canadiens used to win virtually every Stanley Cup, but they never tried to rub it in or offer anything resembling scorn to their opponents. Same with the New York Yankees in baseball — they won all the time but always showed respect for their opponents. In football, the Green Bay Packers of old, the Pittsburgh Steelers of a few years ago, and the New England Patriots right now, all have the kind of dominant talent that could lead to cockiness, but they are always gracious winners, and pay respect to their conquered foes.
When the U.S. women’s soccer team crushed Thailand 13-0, there was no excuse for running up the score, or for Alex Morgan to score five goals, pressing all the way to the final whistle. It was not against any rules for the U.S. players to jump up and down in total glee after the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th goals. It just showed off that showing off was another part of this team’s arsenal, just as much as speedy forwards, deadly shooters, and strong defenders.
They were so giddy they claimed they had no idea they were humiliating Thailand’s players. No, it wasn’t horrible that they celebrated so much, but it might have been a good time to play reserves instead of leaving Morgan and other regulars out there until the end. And to show some respect for Thailand.
The biggest game for the U.S. was against England. The U.S. scored, and England tied it 1-1. Morgan, an extremely skilled U.S. forward, broke up the middle against two defenders, and got beyond the last one just as a perfectly floated pass from Lindsey Horan arrived. Morgan scored on the header. It was her first goal since scoring five against Thailand, and this goal was bigger than all of those five. The U.S. celebrated the enormous goal with proper abandon. At home, watching on the big screen, I asked aloud if she might have been offside, bolting past the last defender an instant too soon, an instant before the ball arrived. It was extremely close, but nobody questioned it during various replays. England’s players didn’t complain, didn’t protest, and the U.S. led 2-1.
England came back and scored a fantastic goal to tie the game 2-2, with a perfect lead pass to White, who had scored the first English goal. White broke past the last defender, just in time to score. The scoreboard changed to 2-2, the English players and fans celebrated their enormous goal, which also would have made White the tournament’s leading goal-scorer with 7. The referee called it a goal, even as I wondered how close she was to offside. Then the call came for the ref to check with the officials upstairs. After a long review, they said…no goal! They ruled the play offside.
The U.S. scored on a play and England scored on a play in a 2-2 battle, and both of them might have been offside by equally slight margins, but the U.S. goal stood as the winner while England’s goal was overturned, and the scoreboard changed back to 2-1.
A few minutes later, England lost Millie Bright, a key defender, with her second yellow card and finished the game short-handed. With three minutes left, England made one last great play — a perfect lead pass straight ahead by Jill Scott sent White into the clear for a point-blank shot. The beaten U.S. defender fouled White from behind, with a little nudge to the back of her leg, which caused her to stumble, miss the ball, and tumbling to the turf. A foul was called, but the England captain, Steph Haughton, made a ridiculously poor shot, soft and to the left, not noticing the U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher had already taken two running steps in that direction to easily smother the shot.
It was after that dramatic and controversial victory that Morgan ran over to the far corner of the field, stood up straight, and pretended to take a sip of tea, with her pinky extended and all. There was a lot of controversy about that call. U.S. boosters said she was just celebrating. Funny, she never celebrated that way after any other game. She wasn’t mocking England, her boosters said. Hmmmm. England is a traditional tea-drinking country, Morgan’s play just helped beat England, and the objective reports all said she mocked England by her gesture. I know people who quit watching the rest of the tournament because of that show of non-sportsmanship.
Another breach of sportsmanship was finally explained on TV. I wondered about the numerous times U.S. players tumbled to the earth after any physical contact, and stayed there, still, until play was stopped. Morgan was by far the most accomplished at going down with a pained expression that sometimes drew fouls. They said that any time a player goes down to cause a stoppage, the teams are allowed to go to their bench for a brief huddle. Ridiculous.
I watched Sunday, all the way through, and I was relieved and pleased that the U.S. players did nothing offensive, nothing controversial, nothing that showed a lack of sportsmanship, all the while the game was 0-0. But there was one pivotal play when a Netherlands pass was lofted into the box, and a player from the Netherlands leaped high for a kick that would have been a spectacular play. Coming fast from the other direction, Morgan ran straight for the ball, too. They both missed, narrowly, but the Netherlands player’s foot made contact with Morgan’s left shoulder, and she plunged to the turf. The referee was called to review it, and declared it was a foul worthy of a penalty kick. That’s when Megan Rapinoe got her chance at heroics and delivered a lesson in how to look left and shoot right, and as the goalkeeper dived one way, the winning shot went in the other for an easy goal and a1-0 lead.
No other team in the world has as many top skilled players to load onto a team. I thought Rose Lavelle, who played at the University of Wisconsin, was the most valuable U.S. player, willingly moving back from forward to defender and igniting many rushes and scoring plays, and scoring the second goal in the 2-0 victory by maneuvering through three defenders and drilling a left-footed bullet.
It was a clean, fast game, played aggressively, but cleanly, although I shook my head at the harsh penalty on a questionable foul that decided the World Cup.
Mainly, however, the U.S. showed it has the most great players and made up a great team that won a huge championship. Afterwards, the U.S. players showed some respect and class, and Morgan resisted any urge to mimic a windmill or a wooden shoe.
Congratulations, U.S. women.