With one brilliant 90-minute performance, the United States reasserted itself as the best team in the world.
A subplot-heavy run-up to the tournament gave way to a lackluster group stage performance, and doubters should be forgiven for wondering if this United States team was capable of putting it together for a World Cup final (I say so as one of those doubters).
Maybe we over-simplify the champion teams of the past in a halcyon fashion, but for most of this tournament it’s been hard to envision this particular team living in our memories with the standing of Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy, of Kristine Lilly and Brandi Chastain.
[ MATCH REPORT: USWNT 2-0 Germany ]
That changed on Tuesday in Montreal. With the chance to etch their names in USWNT lore, this edition of the Yanks met the reputation of their glorified predecessors and then some. Unbridled for a second-straight match, the States looked incredible for nearly the entire match.
Carli Lloyd was inspired, and gave a truly memorable captain’s performance. Megan Rapinoe was dangerous before subbing out. Alex Morgan’s finishing was off, but her presence up top was necessary to give her midfielders room to operate (Plus she won that penalty that shouldn’t have been with her fearless pursuit of the ball).
True, there was plenty of good fortune for the Yanks. Julie Johnston, perhaps the best player in the tournament, should’ve seen red instead of yellow for her foul in the box, and Celia Sasic inexplicably hit the resulting penalty kick wide. The Germans came out flat, and perhaps never found their way back from playing 120 minutes against France in the quarterfinals.
Ellis cannot be lauded enough for having the guts to keep Wambach on the bench. Her tactics, loyalty to veterans and squad selection have been a lightning rod for criticism, and rightly so, but she’s been dealt a very tricky hand in having to keep a balanced locker room while doing the right thing and relegating an American legend to substitute status.
Let’s live in the now, where the U.S. women’s soccer team should be favored to win the World Cup final whether it’s upstart England or reigning champion Japan. They should go back to the No. 1 slot as the best team in the world, and know they didn’t do it as an old-school team that took a conservative, worn path, but as a team that did it with the class of the stars who came before them.