Manchester, England. August 6, 2012.
Old Trafford was selected to host a portion of the matches in 2012 Summer Olympic soccer tournaments. At the disappointingly ripe age of 102, it was the stadium’s first time hosting international women’s soccer. And the semi-final match couldn’t have been better scripted for the Theatre of Dreams.
United States vs. Canada. A storied, gruesome rivalry that known for providing more entertainment than anticipated- no matter how big the hype.
After a full 90 minutes of hard played soccer, the score stood even at 3-3. Two 15-minute extra time periods later, with the immovable score taunting the players from screens all around the stadium, the ref held up a sign to indicate the final amount of added time. 3 minutes. Only 3 minutes before the players would have to step off the field and place their fate in penalty kicks.
This was a near death sentence for the US.
They had been battling back the entire match, going down 1-0 in the first half, then 2-1 and eventually 3-2 in the second half. If Canada scored first again, there wouldn’t be time for another comeback.
If it came down to penalty kicks, there wasn’t much hope. Just a year prior, in the World Cup Final, the team fell in heartbreaking fashion- hanging on throughout the game, but falling apart during penalty kicks.
2 minutes and 30 seconds into this extra-extra-extra time, 123 minutes of forehead sweating, knee scraping soccer from kick off, the US had a chance to take the lead for the first time. Wambach received the ball a few yards above the box and attempted to send a pass outside for Heather O’Reilly. The pass was poorly placed and poorly weighted, a consequence of tired legs. Fans collectively sighed and braced themselves for the Canadian counterattack, but then something happened. Miraculously, O’Reilly moved quick enough to get to the ball and send a beautiful one-touch cross in front of the goal.
“Morgan in the box, Wambach in the box. Here comes the cross. OH, it’s in! Alex
Morgan has done it!”
It was a perfect storm. Lightning movement by a winger to get to the ball, a thunderous cross and a well-placed, water droplet of a header over the hesitant hands of a keeper.
Morgan’s 123rd minute goal was more than the latest goal in FIFA history, it was more than a go-ahead goal over a continental rival, it was more than history repeating itself (in 2011, Morgan set the record for Latest First Goal in a WWC Final), it was even more than a ticket to the Olympic Final. It was bigger. It was a chance for the United States to get their redemption.
Redemption because just an hour before the US and Canada took the pitch in Manchester, the final whistle blew on the semi-final match in Wembley Stadium. Japan defeated France 2-1, earning themselves a spot in the upcoming gold medal match. When the US beat Canada, the stage was set for a rewriting of the 2011 World Cup Final.
A play featuring rivalry, comebacks, the set-up for a rematch and a goal entirely fit for the Theatre of Dreams. Now, imagine the stories Old Trafford could claim, if women had been playing there for years.
2012 Olympic Semi-Final Goal vs Canada (with commentary)
2011 WWC Final Goal vs Japan (FIFA record, Latest First Goal in a Final).