To begin, I will admit I was one of the many doubters a month ago who thought the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team could make it to the World Cup Final, much less win it with a 5-2 blow out over defending champion Japan.
The U.S. attack looked anemic at best during the group round and there were questions as to whether or not the face of the team, Abby Wambach, should be starting and playing big minutes or whether or not it was time to replace her with someone younger and more dynamic.
When head coach Jill Ellis made the decision to trust her team’s depth and moved Wambach to the bench, a new team gradually emerged in the knockout stage of the tournament. Still, the squad was having trouble finishing attacks and goals were hard to come by.
By the time they played the top ranked Germans in the semifinals, it was apparent the United States attack was on the verge of something big.
In Sunday’s final, the U.S. came out firing on all cylinders. Before Japan knew what hit them, the Americans had a four goal lead in the game’s first sixteen minutes thanks in large part to Carli Lloyd’s three goals, the fastest hat trick in World Cup history.
But why the sudden break through against the defending champions and not against the likes of China or Sweden? The U.S. team wanted the Japanese in the worst sort of way. I was reminded of the first time Sugar Ray Leonard fought Roberto Duran and was handed his first professional defeat. It was not a fight in which Leonard took a horrible beating. Instead, he left the ring knowing Duran was a guy he really should be able to beat and he would not rest until he had a rematch.
Our national team felt that same way after being beaten by Japan in the 2011 final. Ask anyone on that team and they will tell you that game never should have result in a U.S. loss. Twice, our women blew a one-goal lead allowing Japan to decide the cup with penalty kicks. Since that loss, our national team has wanted nothing more than another shot at the champs.
In the rematch between Leonard and Duran, it was clear from the opening bell Sugar Ray was unstoppable and Duran was going to lose, and lose bad. This would become known as the, “No Mas” fight in which a frustrated and over matched Duran would simply quit two-thirds of the way through the fight.
The Japanese women deserve credit. There was no quit in them. Gamely, they fought back and pulled to within two goals when they scored in the 27th and 52nd minute. But then, just two minutes after their second goal, the United States made sure there would be no great comeback on the part of Japan when Tobin Heath knocked in the team’s fifth, and final goal.
Still, Japan would throw all caution and patience to the wind and kept sending up more players in their attack only to find out why Hope Solo is the best female goalkeeper in the world.
There would also be no early celebration of a cup victory as long as Carli Lloyd remained in the game. For the entire 90 minutes, she was a relentless force at both ends of the field and demonstrated why placing the team under her leadership mid way through the tournament was the smartest thing Jill Ellis will ever do as a head coach.
By the time the game ended, Japan knew they didn’t just lose their hold on the World Cup trophy, they saw it ripped away from them with a force that no team on the planet could have stopped. This was not even a case of a team choking or failing to show up. They were simply overwhelmed from the start and never allowed to play their type of game.
And now the USWNT becomes the first country to win the World Cup for a third time. For those who played on the 2011 team, a huge monkey has been lifted off their backs and the joy of righting a wrong will be something they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.
At times, this year’s national team performance was not pretty. They could have easily started pointing fingers at one another during their struggles but instead, the team rewarded their coach’s trust in them and reminded the world it is not so much how you start that matters, but how you finish. No one can say this squad has any unfinished business.
(All photos via FIFA YouTube channel)
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.