The party was in Vancouver over July 4th weekend. Thousands of American fans, draped in the flag, poured into the streets from the quaint neighborhoods of Gastown, Yaletown, West End, and Coal Harbor. Little girls wore Morgan jerseys and red, white, and blue face paint; guys donned Wambach shirts and body paint and chanted “U-S-A!” Packs of sporty women – in stars and bars socks and T’s – cajoled the crowds to sing “I believe! I believe that we will! I believe that we will win!” Captain America, and more than a few Wonder Women weaved through the throngs on their way to BC Place, home of the Women’s World Cup Final between the United States and Japan.
The arena was stifling, from the 53,000 fans packed in like sardines and the hazy air creeping through Vancouver – remnants from a nearby wildfire. The Japanese supporters were vastly outnumbered but cheered wildly when their team emerged from the tunnel. The Americans trotted onto the field and were greeted with a rockstar ovation.
The US team had no shortage of storylines: could captain Carly “big game” Lloyd, who has a knack for delivering when it counts, perform again under pressure? Would Abby Wambach finally win that elusive World Cup trophy? How would Hope Solo perform with domestic violence charges awaiting her back in Seattle? And could this team emerge from the shadow of the great 99ers – the last US women’s team to take the title?
All of these questions were answered quickly against Japan. Carly Lloyd scored three times in 16 minutes, including a miraculous 50-yard boot that caught the Japanese keeper sleeping. Wambach was not a factor in this game but she was subbed late – a nice curtain call for the legend. Hope Solo went largely untested but won the golden glove for the tournaments best goalie. The dominant performance by the Americans established them as one of the greatest women’s soccer teams ever – right up there with the famed 1999 World Cup champions.
For the first twenty minutes the beautiful game was just that. The Americans controlled the flow of the match with ball control and aggressiveness. They attacked set pieces and used the midfield to establish possession and create chances for their forwards. And for the remainder of the game they seemed content to sit on their insurmountable lead. There were nervous rumblings in the crowd after a Julie Johnston own goal closed the gap to 4-2 early in the second half. But Tobin Heath’s rocket into the back of the net was celebrated with chants, songs, and booze – lots of booze.
After the final whistle the fans were in no hurry to leave. They savored every moment of the afterparty: cheering when veterans Christie Rampone and Abby Wambach hoisted the trophy and booing lustily when FIFA officials took the stage. Overlapping chants of “Car-ly – Llo-oyd” broke out in pockets around the stadium without ever quite synching up. When the American players left the field the crowd reluctantly filtered out of BC Place – but the celebration continued in the streets and bars of Vancouver.