It always felt inevitable. Sure, the Netherlands had kept Sunday’s Women’s World Cup Final scoreless for nearly an hour, but it always felt like a matter of when, not if, the United States would take a 1-0 lead.
This team was too good. Too relentless. They created too many chances. They forced Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal to make four saves in the first half, three of which were of the high-caliber variety.
Finally, 15 minutes into the second half, the U.S. broke through. Alex Morgan drew a foul in the box when Stefanie van der Gragt tried to clear the ball away from her, but missed the ball and kicked Morgan in the arm instead.
Megan Rapinoe -- who else? -- stepped into the spotlight to take the penalty kick and blasted a low shot past van Veenendaal, who guessed the wrong way and wound up glued to her spot in the middle of the net.
A few minutes later, the U.S. struck again to virtually put the game out of reach when Rose Lavelle made a great run straight up the middle and beat van Veenendaal with a strong left-foot shot.
The Americans cruised to the finish line from there to capture their second straight World Cup title and fourth overall, two more than any other country.
There were plenty of haters waiting to put this U.S. team down, rooting for them to fail, ready to scream “Karma!” They called them arrogant, brash, cocky.
They didn’t like them running up the score on Thailand in the tournament opener and celebrating each goal along the way. They didn’t like Ali Krieger saying the U.S. had both the best team in the world and the second-best. They didn’t like them scouting their hotel for the final before they had even gotten past the semifinal. They didn’t like Morgan’s tea sip celebration against England.
Some of their fellow Americans don’t like Rapinoe, the team’s biggest star and this World Cup’s co-leading scorer. She publicly supports Colin Kaepernick and speaks out against Donald Trump. She doesn’t sing during the national anthem. She points out that the U.S. was founded on slavery in addition to being founded on freedom. She said she’s not going to the “(expletive) White House.”
Some even have a problem with them fighting for the same pay as the U.S. men's team, a gap that is increasingly impossible to defend as the women continue to tower over their male counterparts in this country.
Too bad. This team was unapologetic and fed off the noise where others may have been distracted by it. They don’t care if you like them or not.
They’re the best soccer team in the world. They knew it all along. They weren’t afraid to say it, because they knew their play was going to back it up.
Nothing off the field was going to derail them, and no opponent could do it on the field either. They outscored their opponents 18-0 in the group stage and 26-3 in the tournament. They never trailed at any point during the tournament.
Their closest call turned out to be their round of 16 game against Spain, when it took until the final 16 minutes of the game for Rapinoe to score on a penalty to break a 1-1 tie and give them the victory.
Having to face France -- arguably the second-best team in the world -- on their home turf in the quarterfinals was a brutal draw, but like everything else, it didn’t matter. Rapinoe scored two more goals in that game to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead and an eventual 2-1 win.
Facing a strong England team in the semifinals without Rapinoe or fellow starter Samantha Mewis, who were both out injured, could’ve easily been the downfall of a lesser team. But, in evidence of Krieger’s proclamation about this team’s depth, the U.S. was able to start two other world-class players -- Christen Press and Lindsey Horan -- in their place, and it was Press who scored the opening goal in another 2-1 win.
Netherlands was no pushover in the final either. The Dutch may not be a traditional women’s soccer power, but they did just win the European championship in 2017.
This was arguably the deepest field in Women’s World Cup history, and the Americans’ greatness is a big reason the level of play is rising around the world. They’re a big reason TV ratings continue to get better and better, both in the U.S. and abroad (astoundingly, the USA-England semifinal drew better ratings in England than this year’s men’s Champions League final that featured two English teams).
The Americans have forced other countries to raise their game, but they have not gotten complacent themselves. They put in the work to improve, too. This was a better, deeper team than the 2015 champs, and it needed to be.
And now they’re back on top of the soccer world, exactly where they know they belong.