UNIVERSITY PARK — Carmelina Moscato has heard the question a lot, but she handles it well and with the right outlook.
How tough was it dealing with the Canadian soccer team’s controversial loss to the U.S. at the Olympics last month?
“Common question, for sure,” Moscato replied with the same smile that was ever-present when she was playing with the Penn State program.
The former Nittany Lion, who has just begun a coaching career with Wisconsin, still has fresh memories of her most recent job — as starting defender for a Canadian team that captured a bronze medal at the Olympics in London.
Moscato was back in State College this past weekend with the Badgers, who lost to Penn State 2-1 in the Big Ten opener for both. She was one of many former Nittany Lions back at Jeffrey Field, when the team had an alumni reunion and honored athletes from both programs who have played with various national programs, including Canadians like Moscato.
She has hung up her playing cleats — at least for this season — and is focusing on the new job working for her former head coach at Penn State, Paula Wilkins.
The experience last month in England was certainly unforgettable.
The Canadians, hardly a powerhouse in international soccer, made it all the way to the semifinals before the loss to the U.S., then bounced back to beat France 1-0 to capture the bronze medal. It was the first Olympic soccer medal in the nation’s history, and the first medal in a team summer sport since men’s basketball won silver in 1936.
Moscato started in every game at center back and got to stand on the medal podium with the U.S. and Japan, who later that day had a rematch of last year’s World Cup final.
“It was kind of surreal,” Moscato said. “Looking beside (us) and you see the gold-medalists and silver-medalists of the World Cup. It’s kind of like, we’re standing on that podium, but at the same time we have a long way to go. We’re just realy proud of where we are as a program.”
Moscato said the 4-3 loss to the U.S. was tough, but they all were able to shake it off.
“We took a day and got back on the same page,” Moscato said. “We knew we had a lot to play for. Our country was behind us, there was still a bronze medal on the line, our country hadn’t medaled ever in soccer so we had a lot to play for.”
The controversy involved another former Nittany Lion — keeper Erin McLeod — who was whistled for the extremely rare violation of delay of game when she held onto the ball too long in the final minutes of regulation. The U.S. was awarded a free kick outside the penalty box, and the kick bounced off the hand of a Canadian player, drawing a penalty kick.
Abby Wambach then converted the penalty kick, the game went to extra time and Alex Morgan netted the game-winner in the final moments before the match would have gone to a shootout.
“We definitely took a day to mourn the loss and understand that some moments in soccer are our of your control,” Moscato said. “You’ve got to continue to go.”
The loss was difficult, but the Canadians had to see the bigger picture, not only in earning the bronze but also in far exceeding the expectations of those who don’t live in the Great White North.
“It showed in a year what kind of transformations you can have,” Moscato said. “What kind of work with some focus, with the right diligence, with the right disciplne you can do a lot. I think it proved to ourselves, not only in our coaching staff John (Herdman) and his new regimen, but also to ourselves really. It’s been a 10-year journey to prove to ourselves we can compete with the best and I think we competed with the best.”
Moscato has been on her own journey.
The native of Missassauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, was a key midfielder for the Nittany Lions in a run to the College Cup semifinals in 2005. She led the team in assists (10) and tied for second in goals (7) that season. McLeod, by the way, anchored the defense in goal during that remarkable season that ended with a shootout loss to eventual champion Portland.
Moscato had been seeing time with the national program while she was still at Penn State, but the experience soured and on a return to Penn State not long after she graduated she had said she was done with the national team.
But then Herdman was hired as the new coach, and the outlook brightened.
“I didn’t want anybody else to kind of end my story,” said Moscato, who previously was an assistant coach at Louisville for three seasons. “So I wanted to take it into my own hands and I went for my career and I kept going day by day.”
Now the story has a new chapter in Madison working with Wilkins.
She said when she accepted the job she knew it meant the end to her playing days at a high level, though she has not ruled out going back to it at a later date to make another run at the World Cup and Olympics.
“We always said if the job opened up, give me a shout,” Moscato said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to stop playing, and I still don’t know that, but right now coaching is my focus and I’m just going to roll with it like I do everything else.”
Gordon Brunskill can be reached at 231-4608.