MANCHESTER, England — Abby Wambach was counting. Out loud. Within earshot of the referee.
That’s how medals are won, with moments such as those. A wily veteran using a subtle tactic to get the ref to make a call no one ever makes, one that turns the match around.
The United States’ semifinal win over Canada in the Olympic women’s soccer tournament was so dramatic – and produced such fiery accusations of bias against the referee from the Canadians – that it’s taking some extra time to digest it all.
“It’s definitely draining,” U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said Tuesday before boarding the bus to London, where the Americans will play Japan in the Olympic final on Thursday. “We played 123 minutes. And, on top of that, all the emotion.”
The basic facts and bitter words were evident after the 4-3 result at Old Trafford on Monday night. Alex Morgan scored the winning goal in the final minute of extra time, but it was Wambach’s out-loud timekeeping that led to the game’s pivotal moment: Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen’s decision to whistle the Canadian goalkeeper for holding the ball too long, a call that led to the tying goal for the U.S. in the 80th minute.
It’s a rule rarely enforced, akin to an umpire in baseball deciding the batter hit by the pitch didn’t make a sufficient attempt to get out of the way of the ball. It gave the U.S. an indirect kick, which turned into a hand ball, which turned into a penalty kick.
The goalkeeper is supposed to control the ball with her hands, including bouncing it to herself, for no more than six seconds.
With Canada leading at 76:36 on the official clock, McLeod fell to the ground making a two-handed catch of a corner kick.
Wambach was keeping track.
“I had gotten to 10 seconds counting out loud next to the referee,” Wambach said. “And at 10 seconds she blew the whistle, and I think it was a good call. Yes, it’s uncharacteristic for that call to be made in a soccer game, but the rules are the rules.”