The U.S. team prepares to somersault after scoring against New Zealand… (Scott Heppell / Associated…)
LONDON — The U.S. women's soccer team has unveiled a number of pre-planned goal-scoring celebrations in these London Games.
After scoring against Colombia, for example, midfielder Megan Rapinoe sent a shout-out to former teammate Ali Krieger, pulling a piece of paper with birthday greetings out of her shoe and holding it up for the TV cameras.
In the final match of group play against North Korea, the whole team did "the worm" after a goal. And when Abby Wambach scored in the first half of Friday's quarterfinal win over New Zealand, the players did somersaults in what Wambach said was a tribute to America's medal-winning gymnasts.
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With the U.S. set to meet Canada in the semifinals Monday in Manchester's legendary Old Trafford stadium, the whole thing is starting to get on the nerves of some opponents.
"I wouldn't like it if our team did that," New Zealand Coach Tony Readings said. "When teams concede [goals] they're disappointed and they want to get on with the game. But it's obviously something the Americans do.
"It's something I guess they work on in training. We try to work on scoring goals. We haven't got time to work on celebrations. If it makes them happy and they win games, then good for them."
U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage said that's exactly what's inspired the dancing. And she has no problem with it.
“We score goals, and you’re happy," she said. "What the players want to do, whatever they do, it has to be fun. If they come up with ideas, that’s perfectly fine.”
But the best celebration the unbeaten Americans came up with was completely spontaneous and it followed the first Olympic goal scored by former UCLA standout Sydney Leroux in the closing minutes against New Zealand.
Leroux, who came on in the 81st minute, broke free up the left wing and banged the ball through the legs of Kiwi keeper Jenny Bindon. She then ran back up the field with a look somewhere between joy and astonishment.
"Best celebration I've seen yet," said Wambach, who has scored in all four U.S. wins. "I don’t care if you talk about cartwheels or worms, she had the most sincere celebration. And it’s because I don’t know if she could believe that she just scored a goal in the Olympic Games.
"For me, it made me emotional because that what’s special about being part of the Olympics. Seeing a kid come in, perform and do something that they didn’t even think was possible."
Afterward, Leroux admitted that the celebration had her on the verge of tears.
"I was pretty excited. To score a goal for the USA is definitely a dream come true," said Leroux, was who born in Canada. "[My teammates] had all come around me and Kelley [O'Hara] was yelling to me 'I'm so proud of you,’ and I almost started crying. And the game wasn’t even over."