For millions of Americans following the United States Women's Soccer team play Japan in the gold medal game today, they saw yet again why this group of women are some of the best athletes and sports heroes that American has to offer. In a gutty, dramatic 2-1 victory over the team that defeated them in last year's World Cup final, the Americans not only avenged that loss but displayed the kind of heart, fight, and courage that this country desires in our athletes.
Yes, it's true that our women's soccer team has been dominant in this sport for a very long time. Eversince the Summer Olympics incorporated women's soccer as a medal sport in 1996, the American women's team has played in the gold medal game. Four of five times they have won it. Despite that dominance, international women's soccer has become more competitive and richer in talent over the past handful of years. As a result, the Americans have found a much more difficult road to success than it used to have.
Never was that on more display than in last year's World Cup in which the Americans struggled just to make the final. The team had been aging for a while and with many of the team's starters being over 27-years-old, the reduced amount of speed and athleticism at times against younger foes showed. We didn't look at all like favorites. It was a wake-up call for fans who were used to cheering for them as champions. We lost to Sweden in the group round. We came from behind tying Brazil in the semi-finals and won on penalty kicks (when we should have lost). Although we appeared to be the better team against Japan, we lost in penalty kicks.
Heading into this year's Summer Olympics, a gold medal was by no means a certainty. We'd have to most likely find a way to beat these other teams that have continued to get better while we have looked for ways to improve so we can continue to compete at our best. Coach Pia Sundhage began to incorporate young talent into the starting lineup. Faster, more aggressive, physical players like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Kelly O'Hara, and Tobin Heath were inserted into the starting lineup to play alongside the multitude of veterans who were there to teach them what it means to play soccer for the United States women's team.
It all came together at the Summer Olympics. It was never just about one player. The one player who scored both goals in the gold medal game, Carli Lloyd, had been benched prior to the game and came in as an injury sub. Alex Morgan, the leading scorer for the Americans this year coming into this tournament, only scored three goals in six games. Abby Wambach was her amazing self as usual and scored in every Olympic game except the final. However, she constantly used her size, strength, guile, and toughness to lead the way for this team.
What fans saw today was a collection of individuals who came together with one purpose. Clearly they were not going to be denied like they were at the World Cup. They took a long hard look at their deficiencies (as few as they were in 2011) and worked to make them their strengths. They believed and trusted each other. As a fan of many sports, they are by far my favorite team to watch because of the way they play the game they love. Congratulations, women of the United States soccer team, your gold medal victory today was well deserved.
Julie has been writing for the Yahoo Contributor Network for over a year. She's been fanatically following the United States women's soccer team for a decade now and is unashamed to say that she cried when they won the gold medal today.