The Americans are the world champions, and deservedly so.
They have appeared in three successive finals, have not lost in the tournament since 2011, and now have 12 consecutive wins in the competition — the longest run in men and women’s World Cup history.
Their final trio of victories (France in the quarterfinals, England in the semifinals, the Netherlands in the championship match) all appeared like close battles, with results of 2-1, 2-1 and 2-0. But the USA was always in command and breezed through every examination faced.
On Sunday the Dutch mounted a valiant rear guard but never seriously threatened the U.S. goal. They defended well to keep it scoreless for the first hour, in contrast to the 2015 final when the United States roared into an unassailable 4-0 lead against Japan in the opening 16 minutes. But Sunday's game had an air of inevitability, and once the Americans broke the deadlock there was no way back for the Europeans.
Before the tournament kicked off, my only concern about the USA’s defense of the title was their lack of competitive contests leading up to it. I thought they might be less sharp and match-ready than their rivals, but instead they were fresher and fitter.
Our domestic league is weak and the season short compared to the setups in countries like France, England, Germany and Spain. Some Europeans had taken part in twice as many matches this year as their U.S. counterparts.
But this squad has proved themselves at competitions before, and they were experienced and proficient at game management. In the U.S., the administration's plan to concentrate on the national team, at the expense of the domestic league, paid off. This time.
If the Americans’ coronation was a gentle cruise in France, I think the wind of change is set to blow through the women's soccer. At the next World Cup in four years, I feel a raging storm of challengers will be massing on the horizon.
The USA’s rampaging forward line, the influential leaders it has relied on for years, will have retired, or be bit-part players at best. Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath will have a combined age of 107, while at the other end of the field, the five defensive starters will all be in their 30s.
Will the next cycle of players to wear the red, white and blue have had the preparation and big-game experience to lift the trophy again? Not as it stands today.
There are just nine professional clubs in the National Women's Soccer League across the whole nation. In London alone there are 10. At the 2023 tournament, players from places like Spain, France and England will have had four years of high-level, intense, pressurized competition.
Four years of utilizing sports science techniques and hi-tech fitness training and top-level coaching at the most successful men’s clubs on the planet. They will have represented Chelsea against Barcelona or Paris St. Germain versus Bayern Munich — light years ahead of the preparation of the Sky Blue FC players competing at a 4,000-seat stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.
I arrived in Europe the day the World Cup started, and I’m still here now it has finished. It has been interesting seeing how the Americans' successful campaign has been portrayed on this side of the Atlantic.
In the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, there is a great deal of respect for the U.S. talent and an appreciation that it was easily the best country in the tournament. But away from the playing field, both the media and many fans have perceived them individually and collectively as arrogant and unlikable.
Running up 13 goals against the hapless Thais, getting involved in political issues, Alex Morgan’s tea-sipping goal celebration. … It’s fair to say that the players have not shied away from controversy.
But the Americans went to France to lift the World Cup and defend their title, not to make friends and win popularity contests. They are the undisputed best on the planet. As far as soccer goes, this summer the women lead the way — and left the USA men floundering in their wake.