If they need a rallying point, they need look no further than their splendid captain. If the Canadian Olympic women’s soccer team needs to re-calibrate after the shock of Monday night’s heist by a referee clearly in over her head, it ought to look toward Christine Sinclair. The rest of the country, which took to Twitter and filled reporters' e-mail boxes with anger, might want to follow suit, too.
It was Melissa Tancredi, a player who has risen to a challenge issued in the early days of head coach John Herdman’s tenure, who stood biting her quivering lip on Monday night and discussed the pain of seeing Sinclair "come away with nothing," after three goals in a 4-3 loss to the U.S.
It is a safe bet that there will be discussion between the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA today over the work of Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen, and one also wonders whether there will be repercussions for statements from Sinclair suggesting the referee had decided the result before the game and for Tancredi for apparently telling the referee to sleep well in her American jersey.
That was the twin theme of the night for Canadian fans, media and players: getting jobbed by a referee who had already been the topic of discussion among players in this tournament, and watching Sinclair, as much a constant presence in her sport as any athlete this country has produced, sitting on the pitch staring into the celebrating U.S. players.
Stewards working the match at Old Trafford – and remember, these folks know their soccer – said they had never seen a referee give a free kick for a goalkeeper violating the six-second rule as happened to Erin McLeod and set the stage for a tying goal by the U.S.
Time-wasting is treated a little like the time between pitches in a baseball game or the time each batter takes to get ready: an umpire or referee of sufficient ego who feels the need to introduce themselves into a game’s narrative can use it. It is a bookable offence; it results in a yellow card. Pedersen didn't book McLeod on the call that led to the indirect free kick.
Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated, one of the soccer writers of record in the U.S., wrote Tuesday that he could only find one example in the past 10 years of a keeper being penalized thusly. It was an English Premiership match.
The BBC’s commentary team for the match was shocked at Pedersen’s decision and her subsequent decision to award a penalty kick for a handball when Marie-Eve Nault of Canada couldn’t get out of the way of a hard line drive from Megan Rapinoe. Nault crossed her hands over her chest as the ball struck her and was called for a hand-ball, a play that you can see overlooked many Saturday mornings.
So what now? Canada will play France in City of Coventry Stadium and they have some business to attend to after a 4-0 loss to France that in many ways summed up the ignominy of their performance in the 2011 World Cup. Herdman will remind his team that their goal coming in was to "see their flag raised on the podium." That can still happen.
In many ways, this would be a glorious medal for a team that has regained all of the currency it lost during the World Cup, and that’s not just another Canadian looking for a bronze lining to an Olympic crowd. If you watch soccer and have watched these women play, you know it’s the truth.