The United States women’s national soccer team are world champs—for the fourth time—and the jubilant crowd erupted with cries of “Equal pay!”
The American women took down the Dutch 2-0 in an exhilarating final World Cup match in Lyon, France, on Sunday.
“It's unbelievable,” Megan Rapinoe, who scored one of the U.S. goals, said after the victory.
“We’re crazy and that’s what makes us special.”
The victory means the team will get a ticker-tape parade in New York City on Wednesday, but they still get less prize money than their male counterparts would have been guaranteed.
Sunday’s win was hard-fought. The game was tied at half, a position the U.S. certainly weren’t happy with. The Dutch are known for delivering in the second half, scoring nine of their 11 World Cup goals after halftime.
The U.S. finally clinched the lead after a penalty was called against Dutch player Stefanie Van der Gragt for a reckless high boot near American striker Alex Morgan. Rapinoe took the penalty—already two for two this tournament—and effortlessly fooled the keeper, socking it. The goal is Rapinoe's sixth this World Cup, and 50th for USWNT, putting her in the lead for the Golden Boot.
Midfielder Rose Lavelle cemented the USWNT lead with a breathtaking breakaway, running head-on to the Netherland's defense, and firing off her favorite left foot. The goal is by far Lavelle’s most significant career goal.
The inspired goal appeared to be what the American women needed to come alive. After Lavelle’s moment of glory, teammates Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Crystal Dunn all followed with dangerous shots of their own.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
USWNT have torn through the international tournament with remarkable ease and flair, conceding no goals in the group phase and only one goal apiece against major contenders: Spain, France, and finally England.
The Americans eventually knocked out England in a gripping semifinal match that saw the Yanks tied with the Brits deep into the second half. If not for a contentious offsides call that ruled out a 68th minute English goal—as well as a key save by U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher during a nail-biting penalty kick—the U.S. women may not have made it to the final round.
But the win was by no means a fluke. The American women are a dependable team with a deep bench.
EVERYONE’S A STARTER
When team captain Megan Rapinoe was surprisingly left out of the semifinal starting lineup due to an alleged hamstring injury, forward Christen Press started in her place.
Social media lit up with concern for USWNT in the absence of the popular Rapinoe, but insiders remained calm, knowing Press, a star on the field in her own right, could perform on par with her more visible captain.
Press swiftly delivered and scored the first goal of the game for team USA. Scoring early on in a match has been a trademark tactic for the team that often destabilizes their opponent’s confidence.
Press’ goal, off of a header, was then joined by another goal from teammate Alex Morgan, also off a header.
The U.S. roster boasts 15 players who all prepare like they are full-time starters.
“I have multiple starters in multiple positions,” coach Jill Ellis said after the the team beat England, 2-1. “Everybody gets the same attention and focus and detail from the coaching staff.”
WHO ELSE WAS ON THE FIELD?
Starting in the all-important match were strikers Morgan, Rapinoe, and Heath. The U.S. defense was held down by Kelley O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Dunn, with Alyssa Naeher in goal. The dynamic midfield was filled out by Samantha Mewis, Julie Ertz, and newcomer Lavelle.
The 11-player layer lineup was slightly different than the semifinal, displaying the team’s star-studded makeup.
Midfielder Lavelle has been considered the team’s breakout star this World Cup. The 24-year-old watched the last World Cup final as a fan from a pizza shop with teammates from her amateur soccer team. Only a few months later, Lavelle was asked to join USWNT. Ever since, she has delighted fans with her creativity on the ball, highlighted by a blink-and-you-miss-it nutmeg through England’s legs in the semifinal.
The Netherlands took no chances with Lavelle. Dutch player Sherida Spitse received a yellow card just 10 minutes into the match for sliding into the U.S. wildcard. Twenty eight minutes in, Lavelle gave the Americans their best chance of the game on a corner kick. The powerful attempt was blocked by Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal.
The U.S. needed that ingenuity against the Netherlands. The reigning champions of Europe have become known as an unpredictable force throughout the tournament. The team is competing for only the second time in a World Cup, and the first time ever in the final.
Pulling off a victory against the thoroughbred Americans would arguably have been the biggest upset in Women’s World Cup final history.
OFF THE FIELD
President Trump took an interest in the Women’s World Cup after a video emerged earlier this month showing the now purple-maned Rapinoe vowing not to go to “the fucking White House” if the team won the World Cup. The clip went viral, and inevitably pricked the president’s ears.
Trump then launched a Twitter rant against Rapinoe. “Megan should WIN first before she TALKS!” the president tweeted. “Finish the job!” Trump also extended an official invitation to the whole team, “win or lose,” a retort to Rapinoe saying she didn’t think the team would be invited, even if they won.
Several of her U.S. teammates have publicly supported her comments.
Press lauded her captain as a warrior. “Over the course of my career, I’ve been privileged to play alongside Megan… She’s always been unique in her style and flair and off the field she’s also a warrior,” Press told reporters. “It’s been beautiful to see her fearlessness ... that she won’t back away, she doesn’t shy away—instead it’s the opposite. And that’s something that, as an athlete, is incredible and as a human even more so.”
AND THE FIGHT GOES ON
The women’s team is practiced in fighting injustice. Earlier this year, USWNT sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for “purposeful gender discrimination,” and equal pay to their male counterparts.
The team’s struggle for fair treatment from their own organization has followed them all the way to the finals.
FIFA scheduled two international men’s championships on the same day as the women’s final, after the World Cup date had already been set. Rapinoe said the stacked scheduling was just another slight to the reigning world champions. “It’s ridiculous, and disappointing, to be honest,” she said. FIFA defended the decision, saying the back-to-back championships will boost attention for all involved.