Vintage showing by U.S. women
Anyone who didn't watch the U.S. down Germany in a 2-1 overtime victory on Monday would have good reason to believe it was another "one for the ages" in the latest episode of a rivalry that's taken over women's soccer.
Well, it wasn't. In fact, it was more one-sided than Germany's victory last fall in the World Cup semifinals, and that was by three goals.
Instead of a classic, what Olympic fans were treated to was an old-fashioned display by the original "Girls of Summer," who redeemed themselves with a commanding performance in a match where they entered as the underdogs for the first time in the U.S. National Team's 19-year history.
To fully get back to the mountaintop that this team stood atop for several years as the undisputed ruler of the sport, April Heinrichs' squad will need to perform as well, if not better, against the Brazilians who await them in Thursday's Gold Medal match in Athens.
Here are five observations from Monday's match:
1. What happened to Prinz?
Where was the German star? Was she hurt? Was she tired?
Or ... was it the case of the U.S. defense completely marking the high-scoring striker out of the match?
The Germans didn't help the fact by not looking to their No. 9 often enough to get her going, especially in the first half, but the Americans did happen to turn in one fine performance in defending Prinz.
Much of the credit goes to Kate Markgraf, who was strong once again in her role as a center back, as well as Joy Fawcett, who organized the coverage of the former Carolina Courage standout every time the Germans won possession.
Known for her penetrating, angled runs at the defense and for one-on-one abilities that are among the best in the world, Prinz's first opportunity to turn and face the defense wasn't until two minutes into the 30-minute overtime. And that was despite her continued attempts to wander back into the midfield to kick-start the offense when her team was down by a goal throughout most of the second half.
After scoring five goals in three matches to lead all scorers at the Olympics, Prinz looked like just another forward against the U.S. Without her dangerous runs and hard shots from all around the box, the German attack sputtered.
2. O'Reilly didn't lose her head
When Heather O'Reilly snuck in past German goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg in the fourth minute of overtime, it appeared as though the University of North Carolina sophomore would score one of the easiest goals of her career. All alone on the left side with the goalkeeper lying on the ground in her wake and an empty goal to aim at, all O'Reilly had to do was simply pass the ball into the net. Fortunately for the Germans, her left-footed shot was hit too wide to the left. Even the slight bend she put on the ball wasn't enough to inch it past the near post, as it went wide and she grabbed her head in pure disbelief.
Many 19-year-olds would have been done right then and there. They would have been out of the game, and useless for the remainder of time.
Not O'Reilly, though.
The second-half substitute kept chasing down balls, making dangerous runs and seemingly uplifting the older, more fatigued players around her, just as she did in the final 15 minutes of regulation after coming on for UNC teammate Lindsay Tarpley.
Her fine play and non-stop efforts were rewarded in the ninth minute of overtime when she made a hard run to the near post and skillfully deflected Mia Hamm's cutback from the byline on the right side to beat Rottenberg for what ultimately stood as the game-winning goal.
Heinrichs deserves credit for having such confidence in her youngest player to put her into that type of situation. It's not like she didn't have other options, as longtime starting striker Cindy Parlow and Angela Hucles -- a player Heinrichs coached at the University of Virginia -- were both available on the sideline as well.
It was the right move. Not just because she scored the game-winner, but because of her play before and after the strike.
O'Reilly was fearless, going at defenders when she had the ball, and forcing them to play the ball quickly when she didn't. Her speed and willingness to do the necessary run-making and defensive work made life easier for Abby Wambach and forced the German defense to keep an extra player back at a time when they wanted to go forward to tie or, at one point, win the match.
With Foudy likely out against Brazil after injuring her right ankle enough to be on crutches by the end of the match, the lineup will have to be changed around.
Perhaps that means O'Reilly will get her first start. Heinrichs could use Hamm as a right midfielder as she did for the last 15 minutes of the match and throughout the overtime.
It would allow her to continue attacking from the right side, and also present a nightmare matchup for teen star Marta, who expertly roams the left flank for Brazil, as the U.S. star is an excellent defender and can cover a lot of ground.
Of course, it would allow for O'Reilly's speed to be used against a Brazilian defense that experienced much success against the U.S. -- despite the 2-0 loss -- for long portions of their encounter in group play last week.
3. Setting the tone was a key
From the opening whistle, the U.S. showed the ability to move the ball around and keep possession. The squad showed patience and a well-rounded attack that had the Germans back on the heels for most of the opening half. That type of display seemed to take the confidence out of the defending World Cup champions and forced them to try and play too direct when they won the ball.
And if the German master plan included going at the 36-year-old playing left back, it was quickly averted after Brandi Chastain put out two fires in the first six minutes alone by chasing striker Conny Pohlers all the way to the right side of the field before making a tackle.
Setting up open shots for Foudy, Wambach and Tarpley all within the first 28 minutes of the match -- the latter two having chances that easily could have been goals -- also forced the Germans to sit back a bit more than they would have liked, particularly on the right side where Kerstin Stegemann likes to join the attack out of the back.
4. Germany misses Meinert
While Germany looked impressive in two of its three matches coming into Monday's semifinal, the current side isn't as potent as it was when Maren Meinert was running the show out of her deep-lying striker position in the middle of the field. Without Meinert, as well as holding midfielder Bettina Wiegmann, the Germans didn't play with the creativity or the speed that they showed last fall in the Women's World Cup.
Gone was the combination play out of the midfield. Gone was the attacker -- or attackers -- who could make the defense commit to the ball before laying it off to Prinz around the 18-yard box. And gone was the type of player who could turn one lazy pass out of the back or one quick mistake into a goal.
5. The obligatory Lilly reference
Lost in the heroics of O'Reilly might be the goal that Lilly scored, which nearly served as the game-winner until Isabell Bachor got a fortunate deflection off Fawcett in stoppage time to send the game into extra time.
While Wambach and Tarpley both couldn't score on golden opportunities just two minutes apart in the first half, Lilly was able to come through, as always, on a more difficult chance from a much sharper angle.
Receiving the ball off a well-timed one-touch ball from Wambach, Lilly calmly hit a left-footed half-volley on the run that fooled Rottenberg as it was played to the short side rather than to the open corner on the right. It was the perfect case of placement over power, as Lilly was rewarded by keeping the ball on frame.
Even though it was not rifled with the same power of many of her other 97 goals over the past 18 years of playing for the National Team, it was one of her better strikes, and a definitive goal that a crafty veteran of four World Cups and three Olympics scores when everything is on the line.
For those keeping track, the 32-year-old Lilly has now scored in three straight matches, and is just as important now as she was during any tournament of her career.
Marc Connolly covers American soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org