Did US choke or did Japan simply pull off a miracle?

Come celebrate 30 years!

Uh oh, I just heard it again.

The big “c” word is out there again.

Choke.

A word that can trigger even the bystanders in sports to cringe with the thought of athletes falling victim to this hurtful label.

Choke.

A word that has come synonymous with the likes of LeBron James, the Buffalo Bills, and Ryan Leaf. Teams or individuals that get labeled chokes, whether it’s warranted or not, never seem to be able to shake off the shun unless they finally win a championship.

So are we ready to throw the US Women’s National team under this bus as well after their devastating, gut-wrenching, and unthinkable loss to the inferior team from Japan?

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Well, let the record show that the US were heavy favorites, outplayed the Japanese for nearly the entire match, and had far more firepower on their side.

They also coughed up two separate late one-goal leads to Japan, one in regulation and one late into the second half of overtime.

We can’t forget the penalty kick shootout, which saw an anything-but-confident US side miss their first three kicks from the spot to seal their fate.

On the other side of the fence, the US-Japan was one of the best soccer games played in some time. It couldn’t have come at a bigger time on a bigger stage and will be looked back on as a breakthrough moment both for soccer in this country and for women’s sports. In fact, the game was highest-rated soccer telecast ever on ESPN, by men or women.

The US couldn’t seem to catch any breaks to save their skins. From an Abby Wambach rocket off the crossbar late in the first half to Hope Solo barely being unable to keep a crucial penalty kick from the back of her net in the shootout.

It was a game that everyone could agree that US outplayed, out-possessed, and enjoyed by far more scoring chances. Japan showed extreme resiliency throughout the match and, as the world now knows, just needs one opportunity to bury their scarce chances.

Well, we come back to the ultimate question: Did the US choke in the Final or did Japan show a fortitude and stinginess that was unmatched by any other side in the Women’s World Cup?

When the dust settles and we decide to keep all things fair, this is going to lean more towards a choke from the US.

However, this realization comes from one simple reason: The US were such favorites coming into this match and one of the three major contenders from the start of the competition.

When the US captivated all of our imaginations with their late heroics against powerhouse Brazil in the quarterfinals and won the game in penalty kicks and saw the host Germany knocked out of contention by, guess who, Japan, the US immediately were given the “it’s theirs to lose” status.

Think of it this way. If the Japan had given up two one-goal leads to the US lead in the Final and lost on penalty kicks, would we say they choked?

My guess is that we would say they just were never meant to beat the mighty US and that they had a good run.

However, for the US, there is nowhere to hide from this one.

That being said, this should not tarnish the fantastic tournament the US had. These ladies have rekindled a wavering flame in women’s soccer and have provided a new generation of player role models and a heightened interest in “the beautiful game”. Names like Wambach, Solo, Megan Rapinoe, and Alex Morgan have stepped out of the shadows of past legends like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Michelle Akers, and into a deserved spotlight of their own.

Unfortunately for them, it just had to be the final that Japan pulled a US and came away with a thrilling win in a game they perhaps didn’t deserve.