Count me among the cohort that argues progress in sports is that, on the merits, we can say the US women's soccer team choked yet still appreciate their overall verve and the tournament's drama.
It is condescending to the players as competitors to ignore how yesterday's game ended -- I would expect extreme competitors like the team members themselves would agree.
Here is an interesting counter-factual: Imagine it was Japan that dominated the game and the US with the miracle equalizer at 81', then an even more miracle goal at 117' (the beauty and technical difficulty of Sawa's shot without hundreds of replays will be underrated in history), then the win in PKs. We would be talking about it as one of the great games in US sports history and this team as even more memorable than the '99ers. In reality, Japan's pluck was that spectacular.
The reality is that in the waning moments of the biggest game in any of these players' careers, the USWNT choked.
It's not a value judgment about them -- their bonafides as competitors have long since been established.
But it is a judgment that they were able to move the conversation in sports from one with blind, possibly patronizing allegiance ("love the gals!") to one that iswilling to engage these athletes on their merits, not their gender.
There is no shame in being a world finalist in anything. Upsets happen -- more often than not, we love them. In this case, less so, although as so many have pointed out, if the US had to lose to anyone, losing to Japan in a crazy upset is as reasonable as it gets.
Let's not showcase a lesson that we should hold back on sports' nastiest "C-word" -- choker -- simply because they are women athletes.
Ironically, it is a glorious moment in US sports history that we can (and should) label this group "chokers" while simultaneously (a) lamenting their fate and (b) celebrating their run.