For soccer fans around the world, the summer unquestionably remains the most agonizing part of the year. It is during this season that the elite clubs of the world enjoy their offseason, while fans are left to speculate on the numerous possibilities of the transfer window. Exceptions to this rule include two distinct competitions: the UEFA European Championships and the FIFA World Cup.
Luckily for fans needing more than just watercooler gossip, the eighth edition of the Women’s World Cup began earlier this summer, and has taken the world by storm over the past several weeks. Twenty four women’s national teams came together to determine which of them was worthy of the title of world champions. The favorites for that title included France, the hosts of the tournament, Germany, a tactically sound group with strength in every area, and the United States, the reigning world champions. Each of those squads avoided elimination to progress into the quarterfinals.
The States gained entrance into the tournament back in 2018, when they won that year’s CONCACAF Women’s Championship, of which they were also hosts. The squad ran through their opposition in the group stages, collecting the largest amount of goals scored in the two groups with 18. In their opener against Mexico, the largest threat to US qualification, the States shutout their opponents 6-0. The US refused to give up any goals against Panama or Trinidad and Tobago, winning 5-0 and 7-0 respectively. A +18 goal difference for the States was also the highest of the groups.
The US didn’t let up in the semifinals, outscoring Jamaica 6-0 before taking out Canada 2-0 in the final. Though their output decreased, the States continued the trend of making it seem as if their games were just ordinary training days. Forward Alex Morgan was awarded the Golden Boot for most goals scored in the tournament with seven, while central midfielder Julie Ertz was named the player of the tournament. The US were handed the Fair Play award after accumulating the least amount of cards throughout their run. Eight American players were named to the tournament’s Best XI.
American players receiving high honors for their performances included Morgan, Ertz, full backs Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn, centerback Abby Dahlkemper, center-mid Lindsey Horan and attacking mids Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe. Each of these players remained healthy going into the World Cup, and were still essential cogs of head coach Jill Ellis’ plan for the US to repeat as world champions. Morgan and Rapinoe were selected as co-captains of their side along with longtime veteran forward Carli Lloyd, who has led the States for the past four years. Ellis’ tactics have largely relied on an attacking trio of Morgan, Rapinoe and Heath up top, with Lloyd coming in as a super-sub for Morgan in the latter halves of games.
Selected into Group F along with Sweden, Chile and Thailand, the US were considered to have been gifted an easy way into the Round of 16. Indeed, their first match saw the States rack up 13 goals against a helpless Thailand, who barely had a moment of good play. Morgan led the way for the US with five goals, with her tally edging on her teammates to widen the scoring gap. The victory was marred by the States’ goal celebrations, as the squad rejoiced over each goal with a high level of enthusiasm, even after taking away any hope Thailand had of being competitive.
Members of the international media considered the celebrations to have been excessive, while waving off the US victory. Claims that neither of the two sides gained anything from the experience drew protests from the Americans, who noted they were celebrating first-time scorers. The Thailand squad backed the Americans, saying it would have been more disrespectful of the US to lower their level of play.
Wanting to grant their starters some rest, Ellis went ahead with a team of reserves for the game against Chile, with Heath, Rapinoe and Morgan taking a back seat to Lloyd. The team stalwart contributed two goals in the first half, while Ertz saw her headed effort on a set piece get in the back of the net as well. With two games in hand and an over 16-goal differential, the Americans’ place in the knockout rounds was safe.
With the squad rejuvenated, Heath, Rapinoe and Morgan took up their places at the front against Sweden, but it was Lindsey Horan’s strike in the opening minutes that proved to be the difference maker alongside a Swedish goal. The US went up against Spain in the Round of 16, having to play a team famous for their holding midfield and long periods of possession. The Americans had few opportunities in the match, with their goals coming from two penalties tucked away by Rapinoe. The media attacked the US again, perceiving their win as lucky and unearned.
These criticisms were warranted in the aftermath of the States taking on France in what was an absolute barn burner of a quarterfinal. France wasn’t able to protect themselves against the characteristically relentless opening charge of the US, who capitalized on a free kick after a foul on Morgan. The early goal kicked Les Bleues into high gear, with the French proceeding to largely outplay their adversary for the remainder of the half, despite not earning a goal for their efforts.
The deciding play for the US came in the 65th minute, when Heath’s run on the right wing ended in a clean pass into the box, which Rapinoe happily tapped in for her second goal of the day. France’s pressing game finally paid off in the 81st when defender Wendie Renard went unmarked on a free kick from midfielder Gaetane Thiney to place a header into the top right corner. Sensing the danger, the US were able to hold off any further offense from the French until regulation time expired.
Having outlasted the biggest threat to their crown, the Americans took to Parc Olympique Lyonnais for a semifinal against the Three Lionesses of England. This time there was no storyline of an upset in the build up to the match, with the US having done all but lift the winner’s trophy in the eyes of many.
All the scoring was done in the first half by both sides, with forward Christen Press popping up to head in a cross from O’Hara. England equalized minutes later when forward Ellen White connected on a cross from winger Beth Mead. Half an hour in, the game winner was secured in favor of the US. Morgan, who’d been missing from the scoresheet since her instrumental role against Thailand, met a good cross from Horan with her head to wrap up the match early. The frustrated Brits proved ineffective in the remaining time, earning a late red card for defender Millie Bright, who went in with a hard tackle on Morgan.
The Final was also held at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, with the US competing against the Dutch. The Americans had the odds skewed in their favor by one of the widest margins in the history of sport. The US were unable to score in the opening 12 minutes as they had in all of their previous games, with Dutch keeper Sari Van Veenendaal negating all American chances of scoring. The half was marred by fouls on both sides, which continued into the second.
The referee eventually awarded a penalty to the US after Dutch defender Stefanie van der Gragt delivered a kick to Morgan’s shoulder. Rapinoe stepped up to take the kick, which she tucked away neatly to tie her for first in the race for the top scorer of the tournament. Only minutes later, midfielder Rose Lavelle dribbled through the Dutch back line and finished her run without help in the 65th minute. More crucial saves from Van Veenendaal were the only positives for the Netherlands, as the US went on to raise the fourth world title.
Many records were broken in the US’ victory, including most titles won, as well as most goals scored in a single tournament with an astounding 26 goals. Jill Ellis, who was visibly emotional in her post-game interview, became the second manager in the history of both the men’s and women’s finals to win consecutive championships. Despite harsh media and fan criticism leveled at her coaching style, Ellis’ feat had only been accomplished by Italian men’s manager Vittorio Pozzo with his 1934 and 1938 squads.
Individual player accolades for the US included Rapione winning both player of the match in the Final, as well as the player of the tournament. Rapinoe was the oldest player to win her awards. Lavelle was awarded the Bronze Ball, while Morgan was given the Silver Boot. The four million dollar prize money was disparaged by crowds at the final, who chanted the words “Equal Pay” during FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s presentation of the winner’s trophy to the US. A final heartfelt image of Tobin Heath encapsulated the American win, as the team legend happily made confetti angels as her squadmates lifted the trophy.