By TIM DAHLBERG AP Sports Columnist
Megan Rapinoe left early, her work done for the day. The celebration came early, too, for a U.S. team determined up until the final minute to win this Women's World Cup on its own terms.
No excuses. Certainly no apologies.
Just dominant soccer from a team that embraced the moment both on the pitch and in front of the microphones in France.
The argument about equal pay ends now. These women deserve more, much more, than anyone on the perennially underachieving U.S. men's team.
And give them an extra pat on the back for doing it their own way.
"An amazing group of players but even better group of people," U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. "They put their hearts and soul into this journey and I can't thank them enough."
There should be thanks all around for this team, and not just because they won another World Cup. That was almost expected — the U.S. has now won four of the eight Women's World Cups — but not many thought that it would play out in this fashion.
They kicked off the tournament by preening and posing with each goal — all 13 of them — in a rout of Thailand. They spoke out about parity in their paychecks and equal rights, and their pink haired captain got into a tiff with President Donald Trump over a possible White House visit.
And when their 2-0 win over the Netherlands was over, the message had gotten through. Fans dressed in red, white and blue chanted "Equal Pay" in support of their lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.
"Give the people what they want," Rapinoe said.
The equal pay will come, if not for this team then maybe for the next. It has to, because not only are the U.S. women more successful than the men, they are far more entertaining.
That showed when Rapinoe posed dramatically after putting the U.S. ahead for good with a second half penalty shot. It showed with some final match head banging that put one player out of the final and left another bloodied.
It showed all tournament long whenever controversy threatened to interfere with the mission of a group of very talented players and a coach not afraid to push all the right buttons.
"We're crazy, that's what makes it special," Rapinoe said. "We have no quit in us, we're so tight and we'll do anything to win."
They may not end up visiting the White House, but that doesn't mean there's not more celebrating to do. The final had barely ended when they were invited to a parade Wednesday in New York City, and there will be the obligatory late night TV appearances for Rapinoe and her teammates.
What it means for the future of women's soccer is less clear, if only because great breakthroughs that were predicted from earlier World Cup titles never quite happened. The good news is there were some encouraging signs this week with ESPN agreeing to televise National Women's Soccer League games the rest of the season and Budweiser announcing on Sunday it was signing on as a multi-year national sponsor of the league.
Still, in one final indignity, the women didn't even have the day to themselves in soccer. For some reason international soccer officials not only played the Copa America final on the same day, but the 2019 Gold Cup, too.
This was a day to celebrate, though, not to complain about what should be. That can come later, though the fact FIFA is looking to expand from 24 to 32 teams for the 2023 World Cup is further evidence that world soccer is beginning to take the women's game more seriously.
What is also evident is that the rest of the world is catching up to the U.S., though the Americans never trailed in any match. With European countries in particular devoting more resources to the women's game there's going to be a World Cup in the not so distant future in which the U.S. isn't an overwhelming favorite.
It won't help that those future teams will also likely be without the 34-year-old Rapinoe, who was the unquestioned star of this World Cup, on the field and off. She scored goals in bunches, wasn't afraid to tangle with both her own president and the ruling soccer elite, and was the center of attention everywhere.
And when she posed majestically after scoring the only goal that would be needed against the Netherlands?
Well, let's just say she did it better than any man.
LIVE COVERAGE: Women's World Cup coverage live on 92.9 FM ESPN including an interview with Memphis 901 FC/Redbirds GM Craig Unger Monday (7/8). Unger was in Europe earlier this week for the Cup.