To the stoic co-captain. To the transcendent personality, the icon, the face of the U.S. women’s national team – and now, after 90 minutes in Lyon, a Golden Ball winner, Golden Boot winner, and two-time world champion.
After a tense, hour-long scoreless struggle in Sunday’s World Cup final, Rapinoe stepped up to the penalty spot. Her conversion broke Dutch resistance, and led the way as the Americans clinched a 2-0 victory and second consecutive world championship.
Rose Lavelle’s goal eight minutes later booked a place on the podium postgame, confetti floating above them, a trophy once again in hand.
Lavelle and 10 others stood up there for the first time. The spontaneous, one-of-a-kind joy on her face and others’ captured the moment as well as anything could.
Rapinoe and 11 others, meanwhile, feel familiar elation. They are repeat champs. Jill Ellis is as well, the first head coach to win back-to-back crowns.
Over the past year, they have all been questioned and criticized, praised but also doubted. On Sunday, they emphatically capped another generation of dominance with the program’s fourth World Cup title.
They approached the tournament with a calculated arrogance, with the most American of attitudes: We’re better than you. We know it. We’re going to prove it. We’re going to win. And they did.
They weren’t just better than opponents. They were arguably the greatest women’s soccer team of all time, a juggernaut whose depth led defender Ali Krieger to proclaim weeks ago: “We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world.” A juggernaut who could bench Lindsey Horan, arguably the world’s best midfielder, and still boss around elite foes.
By Sunday, among fans, the outcome seemed all but a foregone conclusion. Such is the sustained brilliance of this USWNT and those that came before it.
For months prior to the tournament, there were warnings. Proclamations that the rest of the world was catching up and closing a Title IX-inspired gap. Predictions that France would ring in a new world order in the quarterfinals, or England in the semis.
In the end, at least for now, in 2019, it was all nonsense. The Dutch held strong for 60 minutes. Around the hour mark, they succumbed to a machine unlike any other in American sports.
A tight first half
The U.S. had scored in the opening 12 minutes in each of its first six games at the 2019 World Cup. The seventh, however, was a different story. A very different story.
The Dutch, known for their attacking prowess and free-flowing 4-3-3, instead sat back in a 4-4-1-1 against the favored Americans. Viviane Miedema, their star striker, played deeper. Winger Lineth Beerensteyn played up top to stretch the U.S. back-line in transition.
All 10 outfield players committed to stifling the defending champs, and they largely did that for 45 minutes. They floored Alex Morgan early, just as Spain had done three rounds ago. Their shape was unflinching.
Chances were few and far between until late in the half, when Rapinoe whipped in two left-footed crosses in short order. Sam Mewis met the first with a lunging header that skimmed wide off goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal’s rib cage. Less than a minute later, Morgan redirected a low cross at the near post. It dribbled off van Veenendaal’s foot, and off the post.
Morgan also ripped a 20-yard shot that drew another save out of the Dutch keeper:
At the back, Becky Sauerbrunn was strong early – alert and up for physical duels. But Beerensteyn’s pace troubled her and Abby Dahlkemper as the half wore on.
It ended scoreless, with all to play for after the break. And that’s when the Americans rose to the occasion.
Video review changes the game
Or, rather, they benefitted from a Dutch mistake. Dutch defender Stefanie van der Gragt wildly swung at a deflected cross. Instead, her studs caught Morgan’s shoulder.
The referee, who missed the “clear and obvious” foul in real time, went to a pitchside monitor to view the replay. After the review, without hesitance, she pointed to the penalty spot. It was fortunate, but should not be controversial.
And neither should the Americans’ victory. They weren’t perfect. They were the best team at the World Cup, and are the best team in the world. After seven consecutive victories, they’ll remain on top of it for four more years.
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