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The U.S. Women Made Soccer History In Wildly Entertaining Fashion

A legacy takes shape every four years in the Women’s World Cup, a monthlong jaunt packed with defining moments. Yet even by those constraints — 31 days, seven matches, four win-or-go-home tests — this prolific, undeniable, captivating U.S. women’s national team seemed to stuff its trip with as many highlights as imaginable.

From ABC News:


When the dust cleared, and the Americans had beaten the Netherlands 2-0 in the final, they left no doubt that they put on the greatest tournament performance in the history of women’s soccer. In the group stage, the U.S. set a World Cup record for goal differential, and on Sunday, the Americans broke the record for goals in a single World Cup with their 26th. In a tournament featuring its most competitive field to date,1 the U.S. was the first champion to march through undefeated and untied since Germany in 2003.

Now, the Americans — with a Soccer Power Index rating of 98.6 — are by that measure one of the two best World Cup teams in history. During the past month, they drew nearly even with Germany’s post-2007 tournament team (98.7) and surpassed the 2015 champion U.S. team. They also knocked off the next-best contender this year, France,2 on its home soil.

First there was the 13-0 blowout of Thailand that announced the U.S. presence; the 3-0 shutout of Chile, with its tongue-in-cheek golf-clap celebration; and the 2-0 win against Sweden in which the Americans exorcised their Olympic demons from 2016 — and that was just in the group stage. They delivered the drama in the knockout stage but emerged unharmed from each test, setting their sights on the next one.

The fan base that watched the U.S. revel in that drubbing of Thailand could only dream of Megan Rapinoe’s viral celebration against France and Alex Morgan’s tea-sipping against England. The days between games featured discussions of the players’ gender-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation and Rapinoe’s comments about the LGBT community, the White House and really anything else about which she wanted to share an opinion. “Megan was built for this, built for these moments, built to be a spokesperson for others,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis told reporters Sunday. “I think almost the bigger the spotlight, the more she shines.”

The crowd in Lyon after the game Sunday erupted in chanting, “Equal pay! Equal pay!” As the women’s game continues to grow worldwide, the Americans have redefined what a team can achieve in a single World Cup. They fought two intertwined battles: for a world championship on the pitch and for a level playing field in the sport.

“We put on — as all players, I’m saying, every player at this World Cup — put on the most incredible show that you could ever ask for,” Rapinoe told reporters Sunday. “We can’t do anything more to impress more, to be better ambassadors, to take on more, to play better, to do anything. It’s time to move that conversation forward to the next step.”

At different points over the past month, the American team was on the receiving end of swipes from Canadian commentators, England’s coach and the U.S. president. But the U.S. never seemed fazed by the legion of countries chasing them. If anything, the Americans acted as if they were the top sports story in the world — and they liked it that way. Sure enough, after his team lost to the U.S. in the semifinals last week, England coach Phil Neville told reporters, ‘‘America has got that ruthless streak of wanting to win.” In hindsight, the U.S. barrage against Thailand foreshadowed that the Americans would not be deterred.

A month ago, FiveThirtyEight’s projections had France as the slight favorite over the U.S. But the Americans’ strength was in their stunning depth, as every player on the roster besides the backup goalkeepers appeared in a game. Rapinoe scored all four of the U.S. goals in the first two games of the knockout stage. Rose Lavelle kept the midfield together and scored the insurance goal on Sunday. Christen Press started in Rapinoe’s place against England and promptly put the U.S. ahead in the 10th minute. First-time World Cup goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made a clutch save on a penalty kick that would have tied the England match. Defender Crystal Dunn had a breakout month. The Americans can leave France knowing that if not for the efforts of any one of those players, the tournament might have ended differently.

The rest of the world will continue to improve. “I think the level overall, around the world, it’s growing exponentially every year,” Ellis told reporters on Sunday. Those involved with the growth of women’s soccer worldwide saw this World Cup as a progress report, and the results had to be encouraging. The U.S. saw talented young cores from Spain, France, England and the Netherlands, and Brazil and Germany aren’t going away.

Where does that leave the Americans? They proved in France that they’re still in good shape. They excelled at their brand of aggressive soccer, and they have the pieces to do it again in 2023. Lavelle, Dunn, Lindsey Horan, Sam Mewis and Mallory Pugh will be the stars at that point.

But for now, this U.S. performance stands alone in women’s soccer history. The Americans found a way to pass every test. As their star captain Rapinoe put it Sunday: “I think that there’s no team that is more battle-tested in knockout stages, in pulling crazy shit out of wherever you need to pull it out of, to move onto the next stage. That’s kind of what this team is all about.”



From ABC News:


Footnotes

  1. The average SPI of this year’s 24 World Cup teams entering the tournament was 77.09, the highest ever.

  2. This year’s French team, with a rating of 96.9, now ranks fifth in all-time post-World Cup SPI.

Jake Lourim is a freelance writer in Washington. He most recently worked for the Louisville Courier-Journal.

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