VANCOUVER, British Columbia — After months of uncertain buildup to the World Cup, and then a group stage and round of 16 filled with angst and question marks, the United States finally kicked things into gear to close out the 2015 Women’s World Cup with a 5-2 victory over Japan on Sunday.
They were better in midfield against China in the quarterfinals and then superior across the park in the semifinals against Germany. And they put the finishing touches on their third World Cup title with a whirlwind 16-minute stretch that will be remembered for as long as people still play and talk about soccer.
“I feel like I blacked out for the first 30 minutes or so in that game,” Lloyd said. “It was just unbelievable.”
Lloyd should consider spending more time in a blacked-out state. Before 16 minutes were up, she became the first woman to score a hat trick in a World Cup final and had salted away the heretofore contentious battle for the Golden Ball. The stretch was the culmination of the culmination—the rise from group the angst of the group stage to dominant performances against Germany in the semifinals and Japan in the final.
“We just knew,” coach Jill Ellis said. “I just knew that the players could deliver. For me it’s no surprise. As the teams get harder and the pressure gets bigger, this team gets better. That’s what they’re about. I said to them in the semifinal game, these players were born for big moments. This is what they relish.”
As the 23 players basked in the glory of what had become a 16-year (and three-World Cup) trial of fire under the hottest pressure, some of them softly acknowledged what everyone knew a few weeks ago. The group-stage version of the United States was not playing well enough to win the World Cup.
“It sounds cliché because I’ve been saying it a lot,” Alex Morgan said, “but we’ve been building momentum through this tournament. I knew this was going to be our best game yet and it was. I think everyone just had this really good feeling today.”
Christie Rampone was part of all three of the near-miss teams since 1999 as well as that ’99 team that until Sunday night was the most recent U.S. team to win the World Cup. “We’ve been working so incredibly hard and (had) ups and downs and it just all came together. We were getting criticized early on for not playing our best soccer, but I think this team willed through it and pushed through it. We started pressuring more and realized that this was ours.”
The three teams did not win, finishing 3rd, 3rd, and 2nd, respectively, not exactly epic failure. But for a team that expects nothing less than winning, they all ranked as disappointments. This time, though, Rampone said it felt different.
“I just felt like we were in a good place,” she said. “I thought when we played the better competition whne it came to where it mattered I think the team really stepped up and played well. The defense was solid. Carli mov(ed) positions and played her role in this final. She just executed and finished. I’m really proud of her.”
Ellis has long talked about things being a process for the team. But it was a process that sometimes looked like it was carrying a completion date that would be too late for the World Cup. Whether it was Julie Johnston’s fortuitous insertion into the lineup or whether suspensions to Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday for the quarterfinals triggered a most important lineup change, it all came together in the nick of time.
“I said to the players we’ve got to continue to believe in the process,” Ellis said. “It had to be a fast process. I was hired about a year ago. There’s been some growing pains and such. It just feels really, really good. And I could not be more proud of these players and this staff. Because I knew they had it in them and I’m just so happy now the world gets to see it.”