Women return U.S. to World Cup glory

The U.S. Women’s national soccer team proved victorious in the Women’s World Cup finals in Vancouver Sunday to become the first nation to win the tournament three times.

In a game meant to be competed with neck-to-neck intensity, the U.S. quickly hushed doubters by scoring four times in the first 16 minutes of the match, with three of the goals coming from captain Carli Lloyd.

The final match of the World Cup — and the tournament — undoubtedly belonged to the 32-year-old New Jersey native, who scored six goals with one assist in 630 minutes played. She was awarded the Golden Ball, an award given to the best player of the tournament, as well as the Silver Boot for top scorer, finishing second behind Germany’s Celia Sasic.

Midway through the game, Wikipedia users changed Lloyd’s position to “President of the United States.” The current holder of that job, President Barack Obama, nonetheless offered his congratulations to the U.S. captain:

Lloyd was the first woman to ever score a hat trick in FIFA Women’s World Cup final history, with her third goal in the 16th minute also breaking the record for the earliest hat trick in Women’s World Cup play.

Lloyd’s first goal came off a corner from Megan Rapinoe in the third minute. The delivery was low and perfectly placed for the unmarked Lloyd to make a late run into the box to finish off the inattentive Japanese defense and goalkeeper, Ayumi Kaihori. As the ball crossed the goal line, it became the quickest to do so in Women’s World Cup history.

On another set piece for the Americans, Lauren Holiday took the free kick awarded just a mere 150 seconds after the first goal. In the midst of U.S. forwards and scattered Japanese defense, Lloyd locked in and tapped the ball into the back of the net from close range.

The Americans unraveled the tight and well put-together Japanese defense in a matter of minutes. Japan uncharacteristically struggled to clear balls and maintain organization, and as central defender Azusa Iwashimizu failed to clear the back line, the U.S. pounced as Holiday volleyed the loose ball into the net, extending the lead to 3-0.

Two minutes later, Lloyd channeled her inner Stephen Curry and collected the ball on the American side, glancing up to see Kaihori far off her line and smacking the ball from the midway mark on the field to complete her hat-trick and seemingly sealing the victory for the U.S.

The Japanese did not accept defeat easily and managed to put two goals up on the board and threatened to tie up the match throughout the rest of the half.  They held possession against the U.S. 52 to 48 percent and had just three fewer attempts on goal than their opposition. In the 27th minute, forward Yuki Ogimi shattered the U.S. women’s run at obtaining the record for longest shutout by scoring against Golden Glove winner Hope Solo.

The Japanese received some help on their second goal in the 52nd minute as defender Julie Johnston failed to clear a beautiful free kick shot from Aya Miyama. Johnston gently tapped the ball in the air, sending it in the opposite direction she wanted and past Solo, cutting the American lead down to 4-2.

Midfielder Tobin Heath scored the last goal of the match two minutes after Johnston’s own goal. Heath netted a Morgan Brian assist, closing out the game for good and setting the win in stone.

Chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” went off as fan favorites Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone took the World Cup stage one last time late in the second half. The impact both players had on the field was prominent, as the crowd of 53,000+ stood on their feet and cheered for the ladies who worked their lives for this moment.

As Wambach stepped onto the field, Lloyd came next to her side and handed over the team captain’s band and wrapped it around Wambach’s arm.

Wambach told Juliet Macur of New York Times that she had refused to accept the band, but Lloyd’s mind was already made up. Wambach also stated she knew her time as a professional soccer player was coming to a close and leaving her lifelong friends to carry on:

“I can leave. Whether I choose to stay or not, they’ve got it.”

U.S. head coach Jill Ellis whose tactical lineup picks showed unceasing belief in her players, was speechless after their win. Close to tears, Ellis’ facial expressions showed relief and happiness at the same time, thinking of the next round of ladies to take the international stage.

Ellis continued to praise her team, telling FIFA.com:

“After 15 minutes, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. We wanted to put them under pressure right from the start, and everything fell into place perfectly. To be honest, I couldn’t really have imagined things turning out better. However, I did know that my players were capable of doing something exceptional. That’s what they were born to do.”