The United States women’s soccer team won its fourth World Cup on Sunday and a grateful nation exhaled and exulted. But on its path, the program became known as much for its voice and style as it was for its transcendent ability.
While coasting through a tournament during which it never trailed and outscored seven opponents 26-3, the United States team became a political and social focal point, defending gay rights, lobbying for equal pay, boasting about its accomplishments.
Megan Rapinoe rebuked President Donald Trump by telling him there was no f—–g way the team would visit the White House and then blistered the sport for not compensating them the same way it did men.
It also became a subject of scorn from those who did not like the way it thrashed Thailand (13-0) in its tournament opener or the way in conducted itself on the pitch, like when star Alex Morgan mocked England by pretending she was sipping from a tea cup after she scored.
But none of the noise deterred the team from what it set out to accomplish – defend its title and reinforce the contention it might be the most powerful team in all of sport.
The exclamation point was provided on Sunday when the USA defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in the championship match. It was another clinical dissection of a bubbling world powerhouse, the Americans getting their goals from the purple-haired Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle.
After it was over, Rapinoe was voted the tournament’s best player and won the Golden Boot as its high goal scorer. And she reveled in it.
“Getting to play at the highest level at a World Cup with a team like we have is just ridiculous,” Rapinoe said. “But to be able to couple that with everything off the field, to back up all of those words with performances, and to back up all of those performances with words, it’s just incredible.”
Rapinoe’s expressive face became the symbol of the tournament. She was in forefront of it all, both on and off the pitch. When the USA needed a goal, it turned to her. When the world needed an opinion, it looked to her.
While the team was being honored on the podium after the match, you could see Rapinoe chatting with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron. She also was invited to share her thoughts about pay inequity with Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s president.
If you think about, the Americans really had no choice but to win the tournament. They had stuck their necks out in the spring by filing a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, accusing it of illegal workplace discrimination on a number of levels. How credible would that effort be considered if it wasn’t backed up by another championship?
That’s what likely was weighing on them heading to the locker room after a scoreless first half against the Netherlands.
“I said to the players at halftime, ‘At some point it’s going to break, and it’s going to break our way,’” USA coach Jill Ellis said.
With 30 minutes remaining in regulation, Morgan was kicked in the shoulder by defender Stefanie van der Gragt, who was trying to clear the ball. After some discussion, the Americans were awarded a penalty kick. Rapinoe deposited it into the lower left corner of the goal.
Then Lavelle ended the scoring with one of the prettiest goals of the entire tournament, first dominating the ball as she approached the box. Then she ripped it home with her left foot.
Lavelle scored three goals in the tournament and as awarded the Bronze Ball, given to the third-best player in the tournament.
“She just does things casually that are out of this world,” USA’s Kelley O’Hara said.
After the match ended, while the players were congregating at midfield, the fans in the stadium in Lyon began to chant “Equal Pay,” lending their voice to the cry for equal treatment and compensation.
“There is some sort of double standard for females in sports,” Morgan said before the final match. We feel like we have to be humble in our successes; we have to celebrate, but not too much; we have to do something, but in a limited fashion.”
Long after this World Cup championship has been digested, it appears like everything else the Americans chose to stand for will still resonate. Given a world forum, they took advantage of it in every way it could.
“I feel like this team is in the midst of changing the world around us, as we live,” Rapinoe said.