The truest words spoken after the Women’s World Cup final were from Megan Rapinoe, the most consistent electric charge in the Americans' seven matches in Canada.
“Our benchmark is winning,” Rapinoe said after the 5-2 victory over Japan. “I would think we would have to be considered one of the best teams there ever was.”
She and her teammates had the right to celebrate that victory, this World Cup, this championship, this year.
They also have the right to be seen in a continuum from the great American team of 1991-1996-1999 -- personified by Christie Pearce Rampone, on the sidelines that day in the Rose Bowl, symbolically on the field Sunday in B.C. Place.
The American women are the greatest long-standing national team outlasting the 1980 American male ice hockey team and the Dream Team of men’s basketball put together for the 1992 Olympics.
The women have taught Americans to appreciate the sport itself – a slower, less powerful but perhaps more visible version of talent and teamwork and perseverance than the men’s game.
Because they came first, I have revered the women of the ‘90’s – the personalities, the skills – comparing them to the Founding Fathers who materialized late in the 18th Century. How could there ever be a collection like Loudy Foudy and Hollywood Chastain and the rest?
The other day I drew a line from Briana Scurry to Hope Solo, audacious keepers, but there are also comparisons between Michelle Akers (still the best female player I have ever seen) to Carli Lloyd, who took over a World Cup final.
Ever since that evening in St-Denis, France, in 1998, I have believed that the best singular performance in a World Cup final was by Zinédine Zidane, who danced and dribbled and passed and headed France to a championship. Take a look:
Now I am willing to put Carli Lloyd in that category for the women’s game, not so much for grace, although goodness knows it takes footwork to run those routes, but for desire. Lloyd has been aching to be delivered from stodgy peripheral assignments.
On Sunday she already had two goals and then lofted a ball from midfield that caught the Japanese keeper out of position, squinting up to the sun, and Lloyd blasted the ball over her fingertips, just because she could – an athlete at the peak of her game. When things calm down, I want to hear Lloyd's description of what she sensed, downfield: Take a look:
Later, Lloyd just missed a fourth goal and you could see the bemused look on her face:: Do I dare regret that? Yes, I do.
They all dared. They all succeeded. They gave us entertainment and terrific football and also sportsmanship, with Japanese and American players treating each other with respect while competing at a high level.
And let us note that FIFA, that disgraced organization, and the absent Sepp Blatter, having as bad a year as Donald Trump, afraid of extradition, did expand the WWC to 24 teams. They gave us new teams that had their moments, like Colombia, out-dribbling and out-juking the Americans in the Round of 16. When the new teams go home, they can tell their federations, look what we did in Canada.
There is a growing history to women’s soccer, ranging from Akers to Linda Medalen, the Norwegian cop who loved to bust on the U.S., to Marta, to the Chinese and the Germans and the Japanese, and now the team of Abby Wambach and those magnificent defenders.
7/6/2015 04:22:57 am
George, a beautiful piece about a beautiful game. Having only vague memories about the history of our women, I was more in the moment with these women, amazed for three straight nights at how big their eyes balls were, particularly Carli Lloyd, how focused, how determined they played to take back the CUP. Lloyd's denial to the contrary, they struck me as a bunch that has spent a lot of late nights together since 2011 talking about how to get back to last night in Vancouver. I remained enchanted with Morgan as she did all the little things to win, looking for teammates to score since she knows her scoring feet are not yet alive again, running down the throwaways as the announcers noted, helping Solo defend the goal, sticking her head and chest and feet into the Japanese balls meant to set something up. I was fortunate enough to play in championship games in baseball and basketball myself in high school, and to see so many in all sports in television, and there's a look in the eyes when great teams win that you can spot. And I saw it all week in Vancouver. I know 5 goals is a lot, the most ever for the women, but I was not surprised because you could sense all week that they were on the verge of exploding out and scoring big time. I know you win championships by eating clock when you are far ahead but I thought they ate a little too much clock at the expense of taking the pressure off Japan in the first half, but I guess you have to reserve your energy in a sport where you do nothing but sprint for an hour and a half. I would not compare this dominant team to the accidental hockey miracle of 1980 (which I predicted knowing nothing about hockey except that the US had won in 32 in Squaw Valley and 60 in Lake Placid (I think), or the marketing venture of the so-called Dream Team in Barcelona. The first got lucky against a squabbling Russian team that disposed Finland 17-1 the next day and the Olympics has no business taking up prime time viewing with professional tennis and basketball players. Women's soccer, like Women's basketball, is played on a truly competitive plain with good teams around the world. I call that a true World Championship. Accepting the good sportsmanship of the Japanese team, I do think they could compete with the Italian men as far as taking melodramatic drops to the artificial turf. And I do think that larger women players, such as on the US team, do suffer unfairly in the eyes of the officials against smaller players because their bigger girth is always going to touch some part of the smaller player even if the smaller player has done the fouling. Both Morgan and Lloyd get a lot of flags when the opposition runs into them, whacks them, and they tumble onto the offending player. I believe this needs to be looked into. One of the disappointments of instant replay is that it has not improved human eyesight. And I notice this more and more in college football when announcers can't see what the cameras are showing them. There's my 2 cents, but know it does NOT distract or detract from your beautiful piece of writing. Which is what I care about.
7/6/2015 05:32:15 am
Hansen, I think the diving will inevitably rise as more women watch great players, male and female. It's in the water table of the sport, so to speak. Morgan showed me something when she went off with a smile to make room for her elder. best, GV
7/6/2015 05:07:34 am
Amen! GV. Amazing, if we blinked we missed the first goal. Julie Johnston, won my admiration as I watched all of the last two games. She broke up so many plays and did it with a combination of skills and courage. I think she will be a long-time defensive stalwart, only 23, and am so glad her being "snake bit" was eased by the win. As I wrote after the Germany match, Megan is a delight to watch, she personifies the American advance in ball handling skills, and did you watch her "bopping" and "twisting" and "jumping" and "dancing" after the game. She is an elf! What can you say about Carli, my son Scott called her, "America's first Soccer Superstar!" Who feels like arguing? Enjoy!
7/6/2015 05:37:05 am
Well, before Lloyd there were Akers..and Hamm....and there is a whole back story of Lloyd's not always being appreciated....Rapinoe is a delight..she reminds me of Martina Navratilova (mind always working) and Jana Novotna, a ballerina with racquet, to mix sports comparisons. That's the thing about a tournament like this...you get to appreciate players like Johnston. As a failed high school defender, I loved the way she played the whole field, including headers on goal. Thanks, GV
7/6/2015 07:08:12 am
George, i don't know how to articulate my view very well since my knowledge and vocabulary of soccer is so limited, but after reading you and the other coverage today, I'm not on the same page with you soccer commentators that the story is the back story. I realize sports and all life is a continuing, existential,coming to be, but this past week has been too unique for me to compare this team and many of its players, who of course, were on previous World Cup and Olympic teams, to the history being paraded out today. My memory is limited but I don't recall this kind of focus, this kind of "we have to dominate and win" in those great teams of the 90s. I think 5 goals kind of speaks for itself but I also don't recall our women defenders pressuring the other team as they did in the last week. It just felt to me (and maybe it's an inaccurate feeling) that this team was unique in the way it played so much better in each game as it advanced toward the championship. Maybe I was enchanted by the beautiful setting in Vancouver or too nationalistic in rooting for the Americans, but it just felt like a unique, once in a lifetime, if not generation, performance, all week. I can't quantity this but that's how it felt; that was my instinct.
7/6/2015 09:20:26 am
Hansen, I wouldn't refute your points at all. That back line may indeed be better than the back line of 99.....great athletes who meshed. I loved the way Sauerbrun or Klingenberg would materialize downfield. And you're right, this team got better every game during the knockout round. When I talk about the 99 team, they came first, they were great, and as of now, they had more unique personalities, if only because they came first. The excitement of the 99 team was high-level. (I was at 5 of their matches.) The final was nuts, after Clinton selfishly screwed up traffic at the Rose Bowl, making tens of thousands of people late.People knew what was happening. The real shock was that club soccer did not take off afterward...GV
7/7/2015 01:26:53 am
Largest U.S. audience for a soccer match of any kind ever, 15% of households watched. Fox got only a fraction of advertising revenues of the men's final. Players get one-ninth the minimum FIFA salary as the men. There is no audience support for a women's soccer league here. Lots to ponder. Congratulations Team USA!
7/7/2015 06:12:56 am
7/7/2015 09:03:26 am
Bruce, I remember the circumstances. Maybe you saw the quote from Carli Lloyd about 2011 that if they couldn't win they would be happy if the Japanese won. The two teams were sportsmanlike in Sunday's match, good body language. I admit, I loved that rally in 2011. Best, GV
7/7/2015 09:23:30 am
7/7/2015 09:57:26 am
I have been an avid fan of women’s soccer since George’s articles about the team appeared in the NYT leading up to the 1999 Women’s World Cup.
7/8/2015 01:49:48 am
Alan, thanks, I remember that match in DC, Chastain was abashed, maybe first and last time ever.
7/8/2015 05:37:17 am
George, if I could close this out with a small suggestion about US coaching in both Brazil by Beckenbauer (sp?) and Ellis in Vancouver: it seemed extraordinary to this casual observer of the game. Both the men and women seemed perfectly prepared for everything thrown at them. Such good coaching can only improve the US play as time marches on with new squads.
7/8/2015 09:33:37 am
Hansen, Franz Beckenbauer would have been a terrific asset to the US program....he knows the country well....but this is Jurgen Klinsmann of the California Klinsmanns. Both great.
Comments are closed.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.