The U.S. women's soccer team is still the world's best after dominating the Netherlands in the Women's World Cup final and winning 2-0. Throughout the tournament, the U.S. brushed aside criticism, complaints of arrogance and calls for the team to tone down their goal celebrations. All the team did was win. All seven World Cup games, in fact.
In the first half, the U.S. created more chances than the Netherlands. The Americans attacked and attacked, but the Dutch defense and, particularly, the goalkeeping of Sari van Veenendaal, who blocked four shots, kept the U.S. from scoring in an opening half for the first time this tournament.
Sunday's sell-out crowd at Stade de Lyon, near Lyon, France, decked out in red, white and blue — and orange — and cheered and cheered and sweated it out with nervous fans watching around the world. Before the final, neither team had trailed or lost a game in this tournament. Both squads had each permitted only a total of three goals. The Dutch got better as the tournament progressed — keeping their opponents from scoring in each of the knockout games before the final.
The U.S. made one change at halftime, replacing Kelley O'Hara with Ali Krieger. O'Hara knocked heads with Lieke Martens late in the first half. The collisions continued in the second half. Becky Sauerbrunn was knocked to the turf, blood trickling down her face. She returned with black tape wrapped across her forehead.
The breakthrough for the U.S. came in the 61st minute. As forward Alex Morgan streaked in front of the Dutch goal, defender Stefanie van der Gragt tagged Morgan's shoulder with her right boot. A penalty kick was awarded after video review. Megan Rapinoe coolly slapped the ball into the back of the net. It was her third converted penalty and sixth goal of the tournament. Rapinoe won the Golden Ball (MVP) and Golden Boot (top goal scorer).
The U.S. scoring continued in the 69th minute thanks to midfielder Rose Lavelle. She dribbled down the field and, with a beautiful left-footed strike at the top of the penalty area, zipped the ball low and to the right. 2-0. It was all the scoring the U.S. would need.
The United States rolled through the opening round with statement wins over Thailand (13-0), Chile (3-0) and Sweden (2-0). Brushing aside criticism about perceived arrogance and excessive goal celebrations, the U.S. then powered through the heart of European soccer with victories over Spain (2-1), France (2-1) and England (2-1) to make it to the final against the reigning European champions.
It was the fifth time the United States Women's National Team played a World Cup final (there have been only eight tournaments). The U.S. is the first team to reach three consecutive finals and joins Germany as a repeat champion (2003 and 2007). With Sunday's win, the U.S. has a record four Women's World Cup trophies.
On a day that should have been all about the World Cup, the United States had to share the soccer spotlight. "It's ridiculous," said Rapinoe, that there are not one but two men's soccer championships scheduled on the same day: the Copa América and CONCACAF Gold Cup. "That's a terrible idea to put everything on the same day in every way. This is the World Cup final. This is 'cancel everything day,' " Rapinoe said. Soccer's international governing organization, FIFA, said having all three tournament finals on the same day will draw attention to the sport.
The U.S. team will return home to adoring crowds and fans and a new fight. In March, the U.S. Women's National Team sued U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination. In the lawsuit, the team claims that the soccer federation pays members of the women's team far less than similarly situated members of the men's team — a men's team that has had nowhere near the success of the women on the international stage. Both sides agreed to mediation after the tournament. After the final whistle, the crowd in Lyon chanted, "Equal Pay!"
Record audiences have tuned in for this tournament both in the United States and around the world. Will this exciting tournament translate into continued growth of the women's game? "Your hope is [that] back in the U.S., more kids want to go out and play this great sport," said U.S. head coach Jill Ellis. "I mean, that's ultimately the building block you build on. My hope is that more people get on board financially. You know, sponsors, they see the value in it. They see the marketing marketability of it, and then more little kids want to go and kick a ball around."
Now the U.S. returns home as champions again.
Correction: July 7, 2019 12:00 am — An earlier version of this story misspelled Stefanie van der Gragt's first name as Stephanie. Additionally, the original headline on this story referred to the U.S. women's soccer team's World Cup victory as a "four-peat." The victory sealed the team's fourth World Cup championship overall, not its fourth in a row.