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Monday, July 6, 2015

The FIFA Women's World Cup Review Thread For 7/6/15: How The Third Time Is The Biggest Charm For The United States Women's Soccer

Photo from Fifa.com/Getty Images

Score Settled. 

Those are the operative words when one comes to mind the minute Carli Lloyd put two goals into the back of the Japanese net in 6 minutes to show the full intent on the United States closing out their World Cup of revenge. It was a start so expedient and clinical, unlike any other World Cup Final had ever seen before, a determination that was set in stone the minute Saki Kumagai hit the final penalty past Hope Solo four years ago in Germany. And it was a desire to feel the glory that the 1991 and 1999 teams felt, instead of the agonizing heartbreak that tormented them for four years all the way to the final whistle was blown at BC place. 

The Olympic title for a third straight time and instant revenge in London wasn’t satisfying enough. The hashtag “#ScoretoSettle” was established, because this United States women’s national team program hates when it is not in first place. In their minds, it is against the law of the universe for the country that invented, reinvented and revitalized women’s soccer to not be at the forefront of the sport. And when it was the third major program that had denied them that purch atop the sport’s heap, the USWNT was hell bent on bringing hell to Germany and especially Japan. 

The final two matches (especially the final) for the United States were the opposite of how the first five matches went: the attack was at its best saving the defense. Lloyd, the feisty New Jersey legend of clutchness for her big goals in Olympic gold medal contests, ascended to another level unlike any other female player in a major final. Say what you want about a Naomi Sasaki coached backline and organization that completely fell apart. Lloyd just has that innate gift of seizing the moment that not every elite athlete can achieved. 

The crestfallen spirit the 32-year-old midfield ace displayed after she skied her penalty kick attempt into the stands four years ago served as a noticeable but minor blip on a radar of bringing her best in the biggest moments. It’s one thing to score two set piece goals off horrendous defending; it’s another when you are able to pull a goal from half field to complete a hat trick even she couldn’t have fathomed. 
  
The compliment to Lloyd’s record book performance was her midfield partner Lauren Holliday having a moment that made her easily the most grateful person in the entire stadium. For the entire month, the player even more a proper #10 than Lloyd herself had to be shackled with the burden of knowing when to go forward and when to protect her centerbacks. It was a moment of utter relief and joy for the Kansas City star when more  atrocious Japanese defending gave Holliday the opportunity to unleash a full volley hit of the top order. For an offensive talent who has had to sacrifice and take a back seat to other attacking options for several years on this national team, Holliday’s class finish was a moment as significant as Lloyd’s epic eruption. 

Still, as mentioned before, the defense reverted to having the struggles the offense previously felt. After a five match and a half campaign of sheer brilliance, Julie Johnston began looking more like the good but still young, error prone defender that everyone expected her to be at age 23 and just with 19 caps, not the precocious dynamo she ascended to before getting her hand on Anja Mittag’s shoulder. Fortunate to be in this game in the first place, Johnston gave the reigning world champions hope that they would produce a miracle comeback. Her over aggressive and wrong reading of Japan’s intricate passing was fully exposed, allowing Yuigi Ogimi the chance to wake up Japan from their miserable nightmare. Johnston continued her decline from Best XI member of tournament in the second half, as her own goal header gave Japan hopes that a 4-2 deficit could lead to one of the all time comebacks ever in sports. 

But the pain of four years ago was too much for the U.S. to blow a lead of four. Tobin Heath, one of the youngest players back then, galvanized herself once more this tournament in the most emphatic way. Another set piece disaster from Japan, highlighted by the latest moment where keeper Kaihori did not cover herself in glory, set up Tobin Heath to score the 4th goal for a New Jersey woman on the day. It was a low finish that provided a fifth tally and the most important goal in the game, just when it seemed that Japan, led one last time by its legend Homare Sawa coming off the bench, had all the momentum to produce a comeback like no other. 

But the only comeback here was the United States women coming back to the position they held in the first and third editions of this tournament. It was the full reward for a team and program under justifiable criticism in 2014. Tom Sermanni was suppose to be the coach that lead the USWNT to full glory again, not Jill Ellis. Sermanni was suppose to be the coach to prevent the USWNT from falling behind the rest of the pack in cultivating young talent. And Sermanni was suppose to be the coach that got the USWNT to win matches against the elite without having to rely on their great athleticism, fitness and fight. But after a promising start, it began to turn sour when the established stars complained more and were given the best reason for Sermanni to be replaced by Ellis: that seventh place showing at the Algarve Cup. It was a full players revolt of Sermanni, whose firing remains quite the mystery to those still wondering what happened, especially with a six month silence period he signed into with U.S. Soccer for his dismissal.  

Sermanni’s shocking firing seemed so foolish at the time, an inevitable sign that the most privileged women’s team and program in the world would be humbled by being so obstinate to necessary change. It felt the collapse of a superpower was beginning to manifest itself right in front of our very eyes. The way Ellis was slammed after the Colombia match, from Michelle Akers all the way down to your favorite women’s soccer blogger, was a clear sign that the things Sermanni wanted to be implemented with this team needed to be taken by Ellis immediately. Gone was Wambach and the 4-4-2, and in came Morgan Brian and the 4-3-3. The rest is history. 

The energy, the vigor and the overall quality that a team wanting to be the best in the world has to show returned to the United States’ women’s team once their quarterfinal with China started. A tired, shorthanded Germany and a physically overmatched Japan felt the full force of this resurgent team desperate for a third crown.  

Only the United States women’s team can have a players’ revolt on a quality coach, see one of its star players in Abby Wambach intentionally skip club play to just focus on training for Canada 2015, deal with the endless array of Hope Solo’s alleged domestic violence actions, and have overaged veterans Christine Rampone and Shannon Boxx be on an elite team at the end of their careers and still win a World Cup.  

July 5 at BC Place served as the reward for enduring all of that and standing on top of it in the end. It is the chilling excitement and tears of joy for this group of women sans Rampone, who had to hear the whispers of whether they could match the feats of the ’91 and ’99 women. While those teams had their own pressure to make women’s soccer become a thing in this world, the 2011 & 2015 World Cup teams had to keep it a thing. 

And the only way for them to do that, to get record ratings for Fox and endless array of tweets in the United States to capture the country’s imagination again, was to settle the score. 


Mission complete. 
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