US vs. Japan
The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Championship

By Shane Stay, author of Why American Soccer Isn’t There Yet

The rematch was set to commence. Four short years ago, in 2011, which may seem like an eternity for some of the players, the US lost an agonizing defeat against the talented Japanese in the final match. With all eyes on Vancouver, the beauty of fate in sports gave everyone another chance to sit back and watch two great teams do it all over again. I’m tempted to make the most suspect analogy but it’s worth it. When it comes to the US vs. Japan the US is “Maverick,” Tom Cruise, and Japan is the “Iceman,” Val Kilmer. The US has to live up to the reputation of “Duke Mitchell” (the 99’ squad) and they have something to prove, playing with great skill, momentum and two inches from the edge, just like Maverick and Goose. Japan is steady, always patient, wearing you down, waiting for a moment to strike, just like the Iceman and Slider. In an attempt to find out “who is the best” the US had to go through the better team, the number one ranked team in the world, Germany (AKA “Cougar”), who lost their wings, in a momentary lapse of concentration…(Yes, I’m stuck in the 80s; you should see how I dress.)
In front of over 53,000 fans in Vancouver, Canada, it was finally time for Maverick, who’s athletic, daring and emotional, to go head-to-head with the steady, precise, perfection-oriented Iceman. Maybe, just maybe, the US would have to tap the brakes for a moment allowing Japan to fly right by, for an opening at goal. Not exactly.

The only brake taping may have arrived later in the game as the US was holding on to a secure victory. As most people know, the game erupted with two early goals from Lloyd, setting the stadium ablaze with excitement. Six minutes hadn’t even gone by and it was 2-0! By the time the third came – still in the first half, mind you – no one thought it could happen, but it did: Lloyd scored a hat trick…in the first half. Not only was it a hat trick, which is rare enough in soccer, it was a hat trick in the first half, and, from a long distance “chip shot” from half field, as Lloyd capitalized. This is a shot which many people have tried and failed only to occur on rare highlight goals from VHS tapes called “The 100 Greatest Goals” and it’s done by some Englishman in the mid-80s. And Lloyd scored one to complete a hat trick, in the championship game? Yep. It’s the equivalent to a NFL quarterback throwing five or six touchdown passes in the first half of a Super Bowl. Maybe. It’s hard to compare. The point is you’re not going to see something like this very often. And that made it 4-0. The US was sailing. Japan, on the other hand, kept things steady, chiseling away at possession, eventually knocking in a goal before the half let out.

By the second half, Sawa, Japan’s best player from the past had joined the pitch, hoping to improve the effort. It became 4-2, with Miyama, the talented number eight, leading the way and at this moment Japan had a chance. With one more goal they could have put the US on their heels with the unthinkable comeback, however, Heath found a nice pass on her foot in front of the goal for a guided one-touch score, which took away Japan’s momentum.

For soccer fans of “yesterday” so to speak, Christie Rampone got subbed in at the young age of forty. Born on June 24, 1975, she completed a cycle of sorts, from the 99’ bunch to now. She played with the national team on-and-off since 1997 but was left off the memorable 99’ roster. From 2003-2009, she took a break from the game, returning all this time later to join Wambach on the stage to hoist the trophy high in the air for a triumphant victory against a worthy rival, bringing a third World Cup title to the United States Women’s side.
Sepp Blatter, the President of FIFA, usually presides over the ceremonial functions but he was absent this time around saying, “…I won’t take any travel risks,” being investigated by the US Department of Justice for the legal problems he and many of his FIFA colleagues are facing at the moment. This was only a footnote to an otherwise remarkable game as the US team stole the show in fashion, golden confetti and all. To play with such style late in the tournament was a huge turn around for a team many people were questioning in the early rounds. Analysts noted good play here and there but spoke with trepidation. The talent was there; the potential was there, yet they weren’t “impressing” anybody. Sure, they had moments of brilliance, but the immediate future was gloomy, at best. Then, from the China match onward, everything clicked as the team was destined to stand in the middle of golden confetti to be compared – rightly so – with the 99’ squad, who they’ve been chasing all this time.
At this point, the team will enjoy the celebrations and get ready for the next time around!

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