On Sunday evening in Vancouver, Hope Solo realized a lifelong dream and the United States Women’s National Team accomplished a feat 16 years in the making, winning the World Cup once more.
In capturing the country’s third World Cup, the USWNT left no doubt with a dominating 5-2 defeat of Japan in the 2015 WWC Final. The victory capped an extraordinary journey for Team USA, 16 years after the team’s last title and four years removed from a heartbreaking loss to the same Japanese squad in penalty kicks of the 2011 Final. Since then, Hope and her teammates have leaned on one another and grown together. And their hard work paid off in the biggest way imaginable on Sunday, allowing them to bring the Women’s World Cup crown back to America.
“It felt good to believe in this team,” Hope said afterward. “It’s been 16 long years. It’s been a wild journey, it’s been heartbreaking at times, it’s been emotional, it’s been a struggle, but we never took our eyes off the prize. And here we are, able to say we’re World Cup champions.”
The 2015 USWNT certainly had its share of ups and downs to arrive at this point and even endured some growing pains in this WWC tournament, as the offense struggled to tally goals, resulting in several close contests on their way to the Final. All the while, Hope never doubted her team, and they came through when it mattered the most, overwhelming Japan with four goals in the first 16 minutes on Sunday to set the stage for a stunning victory.
“I never doubted it,” said Hope. “Last night, I knew we had to have a good performance, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I didn’t have any doubt. I feel like it was our destiny, and we made it happen.”
Hope did her part, tallying three key saves to stymie a late rally by the defending World Cup champions, and she earned the Golden Glove as the tournament’s best goalkeeper. No. 1 also did a fabulous job keeping up the intensity even after her team jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the opening moments of the game. Hope’s continued passion and focus helped her defense continue to click despite the cushion, and ultimately allowed them to fend of Japan’s attempts to come back.
“It was incredible playing with our back line,” Hope said. “I was so proud of our players. I came closer to our back line throughout the entire tournament. We were there for one another, we were coaching each other through things. There were no egos, and it felt so good to feel that way. It was a defense built around trust.”
While the USA defense carried them through the tournament a sudden jolt from the offense was the catalyst on Sunday, led by the play of midfielder Carli Lloyd, who finished with a hat trick and took home the illustrious Golden Ball award.
Lloyd opened the scoring just three minutes into the contest when she one-touched a corner kick by Megan Rapinoe into the back of the net for the game’s first goal. Two minutes later, after Tobin Heath was fouled, Lauren Holiday sent a well-placed free kick in to Julie Johnston who flicked it back, where Lloyd was waiting to tap home score No. 2.
Then in the 14th minute, Holiday joined the scoring parade. Heath started the play lofting a ball in the box toward Alex Morgan. The ball briefly looked to be covered by Japan’s Azusa Iwashimizu, however her header instead deflected up toward the Japanese goal. Holiday streaked in and volleyed it into the back of the net to make it 3-0.
Before the crowd even had a chance to settle after Holiday’s goal, Lloyd tacked on another in the 16th minute to complete her hat trick. The veteran gathered a loose ball near midfield and swiftly beat a defender to make her way into Japanese territory. While still well inside the circle, some 54 yards outside the goal box, she launched a long shot high over goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori’s head and into the back of the net, putting the U.S. cushion to four goals.
Though the USWNT momentum was on a crescendo and the incredible fourth goal seemed to give the U.S. an insurmountable advantage, the wily Japanese team didn’t falter. Instead they regrouped and went on the attack.
After 20 minutes of push by the U.S. offense, Japan’s forwards truly tested Hope for the first time all game in the 22nd minute, with an attempt that forced her to dive and swallow the ball on the back line just near the post. Japan kept creating, and in the 28th minute they broke through. Nahomi Kawasumi played an excellent cross in to Yuki Ogimi, who collected it and beat Johnston with a spin before driving the ball just over Hope’s outstretched arm and into the net.
That goal ended a 540-minute scoreless streak for Hope and the USWNT defense that tied and came just six seconds shy of breaking the World Cup record for scoreless minutes set by Germany in 2007. It was the first goal allowed by No. 1 and the USA since the 27th minute in their opening match against Australia.
The Japanese attack nearly added another tally in the 30th minute. The U.S. box was heavily trafficked, and Hope first protected her near post before recovering while Japan rebounded its first miss. The Japanese then sent another shot Hope’s way, and she was there for the save to preserve the 4-1 score going into the half.
Japan continued to apply pressure after the break and put another tally on the board just seven minutes into the second half. Off a free kick, Hope had the near post protected from a Japanese header, but when Johnston attempted to make a clearance with a header of her own, the ball instead glanced back into the net for an own-goal.
Fortunately, the sting of that goal didn’t last long. Just two minutes later, Holiday sent a corner kick into the box, where the Japanese keeper punched it out. However, the ball didn’t make it far, as Morgan Brian collected it and sent it right back into the box, where Heath finished with one touch to push the U.S. lead back to three, which wound up being the finishing tally.
Hope worked hard over the remainder of the contest to preserve that three-goal cushion. She erased three excellent chances for Japan in a five-minute span, culminating with a critical save in the 76th minute after a ball was headed down in the box and right on frame.
With Hope in goal, the American defense was undoubtedly the best in the tournament, allowing just three goals in seven matches for an average of 0.43 per contest. The effort earned Hope the Golden Glove award. However, as she stated after the match, though her name was engraved on the trophy, she considered the prize very much a team honor, as both she and the entire USWNT backline were almost impenetrable throughout their time in Canada.
“It may be an individual award, but there are a lot of people who enabled me to be here holding this trophy today, which is the greatest moment of my career, and I thank them,Hope said of the her Golden Glove nod. “I dedicate it to my coaches and my teammates, especially my defenders.”