Morgan, too, was rattled. She came to the sideline for a bit, briefly leaving the Americans with 10 players. She quickly went back in, but with the game both tight and late, Sundhage watched her star forward slowing down.
“We thought that we needed a little bit of a sparkle,” said the coach, a native of Sweden.
So in the 81st minute, Sundhage sent on Olympic rookie Sydney Leroux. The Canadian-born reserve could scarcely contain herself. Shortly after she arrived, in the 87th minute, she had the ball on the left wing. She then rifled a shot that got through Bindon and put the Americans up 2-0.
So, then, how to celebrate?
“I didn’t plan anything, because I just went crazy,” Leroux said. “Because I was unaware that I had scored, I think. I blacked out, I’m pretty sure.”
Leroux’s teammates arrived to reassure her that yes, this was real. She leaped into their arms. Wambach, the old hand who has scored 142 international goals — just 16 off legend Mia Hamm’s record — was moved.
“Best celebration I’ve seen yet,” Wambach said. “I don’t care if you talk about cartwheels or worm stuff. She had the most sincere celebration and it’s because I don’t know if she could believe that she just scored a goal at the Olympic Games.
“For me, it made me emotional. That’s what’s special about being a part of the Olympics — seeing a kid come in, perform and do something that they didn’t even think was possible. It was brilliant.”
The Americans, undoubtedly, will dream up something else for the semifinal.
“If it makes them happy, and they win games,” Readings said, “then good on them.”
Right now, they are happy, they are winning games, and they are celebrating in ways both planned and not.