It's not until everything goes right that you begin to realize how much of the juice of sports is watching things go wrong.
The tone was set immediately after the first game of this Women's World Cup. Canada won that match on a late, dodgy penalty call against the Chinese.
Given the chance to complain – and there was plenty to complain about – Chinese coach Hao Wei shrugged amiably and said, "It's a pity."
That's it. A pity.
If that call had gone the other way, the crowd would have come out of the stands at Commonwealth Stadium and lit the plastic field on fire. And they'd have been right to do so.
In retrospect, you sort of wish it had gone sideways for Canada at that point. It might've served as an emotional jumpstart for a thus far somnambulant team. And at the least we'd have something to talk about.
Nearly two weeks after it started, the Women's World Cup feels like it's been going on for months. Possibly years. Actually, someone should probably go down and check that the Earth's core is still spinning. Based on my extensive knowledge of geothermal physics (from watching the middle third of The Core), that's how time moves forward. We may be stuck in a loop.
Everything about this tournament is going precisely to plan. Everybody who should be winning is winning, but desultorily. Many games are brutally unbalanced and never in doubt. The others feature almost no goals. The rules are generally being enforced in a fair and measured way. Nobody is speaking out of turn or causing a fuss. Nobody's been bitten.
Which is boring. Oh God, so boring.
Who's your star of the tournament? It might be Canada's Kadeisha Buchanan. By definition, a soccer tournament that features a central defender as its best player is going to be largely unwatchable. It's the equivalent of walking out of movie and saying, "What I really liked was the set dressing."
Best moment? I dunno. Worst moment? No idea. Were you, like, shocked when Colombia upset France? I guess … Can I go back to bed now?
It's not until everything goes right that you begin to realize how much of the juice of sports is watching things go wrong. Without something to tilt against, we all end up flat on the ground.
The one person you felt could be depended on to go off the rails at some point was America's enthusiastic black hat, Abby Wambach. She's the Mikey of women's soccer – she hates everything.
She did take another little shot at the synthetic turf, saying: "I definitely think that the U.S. has more goals if we're playing on grass."
By Wambachian standards, this is a gentle caress. Even she seems barely engaged by what's happening, and we're not just talking about the way she's playing.
This is the result of the decision to expand the field to 24 teams from 16; to grant knockout-round access to two-thirds of those teams; and to lengthen the tournament to 30 days from 22.
Sport generally is infected by the scourge of moreness. More games. More broadcasts. More ads. More media availabilities. More clichés. More for more's sake.
There is a critical level of "more" where it begins to function as less. When there's too much, no single event matters in any particular way. Once you get to the point where the match-ups get tasty – and we're still more than a week from the start of the quarterfinals – all the initial enthusiasm has bled off.
On television, the final of a big tournament is the main event. But on the ground, you cannot beat the beginning. The trick is in quickly bridging the buoyancy of takeoff with the nerviness of win-or-go-home matches. Once you get stuck in between, it's awfully hard to get started again.
That's Canada's tournament on both a macro and micro level. If the team were putting in boffo performances, no one would much care what anybody else is doing.
Instead, Canada is slowly drifting toward the iceberg, and we all know it. Maybe it'll be Norway, or France, or Japan. But it's coming and no one's made any move to adjust course. Canada is surviving not because the roster is performing, but because all of its opponents have been fundamentally flawed. Once they reach an opponent who has mastered that vanished art of the give-and-go, they're finished.
As soon as Canada's gone, this thing is in bad danger of drifting into total irrelevance. You had hoped that someone might come here and light the ticket-buying-public's imagination. No one's bothered. Based on what we've seen so far, the women's game isn't growing. It's in the midst of hibernation.
Wambach is functionally done. Christine Sinclair isn't far behind her. Brazil's Marta and Japan's Homare Sawa are fading away. Germany isn't exciting – it's effective. There's a difference. Even the classy French are beginning to look … well, French.
In 2011, this was a rough roll-call of the champagne portion of the tournament. It looks as if it's been sitting out on a table, losing its fizz ever since. But we're still being asked to drink it.
Nothing's finished yet. There's still time to apply the paddles and shock this thing back to life. A more ambitious level of play would help. Canada going out in four days' time and laying an epochal beating on whatever minnow they face in the Round of 16 would solve all homer problems.
Barring all else, someone needs to do something. Something crazy. Something that will get people talking. Because they're not talking about this right now. They're watching, but out of a sense of duty.
This is the one thing the women's game might adopt from the men's – a conscious embrace of the dramatic gesture. If you're up, make a show of it. If you go down, go down clawing. When it goes wrong, let it go really, really wrong. And then, occasionally, let it go Luis Suarez wrong.
Continuing to amble along in the current, cautious fashion, looking only to scrape a dour win while drawing no attention to yourselves – that would be the real pity.