To the stoic co-captain. To the transcendent personality, the icon, the face of the U.S. women’s national team – and now, after 90 minutes in Lyon, a Golden Ball winner, Golden Boot winner, and two-time world champion.
After a tense, hour-long scoreless struggle in Sunday’s World Cup final, Rapinoe stepped up to the penalty spot. Her conversion broke Dutch resistance, and led the way as the Americans clinched a 2-0 victory and second consecutive world championship.
Rose Lavelle’s goal eight minutes later booked a place on the podium postgame, confetti floating above them, a trophy once again in hand.
Lavelle and 10 others stood up there for the first time. The spontaneous, one-of-a-kind joy on her face and others’ captured the moment as well as anything could.
Rapinoe and 11 others, meanwhile, feel familiar elation. They are repeat champs. Jill Ellis is as well, the first head coach to win back-to-back crowns.
Over the past year, they have all been questioned and criticized, praised but also doubted. On Sunday, they emphatically capped another generation of dominance with the program’s fourth World Cup title.
They approached the tournament with a calculated arrogance, with the most American of attitudes: We’re better than you. We know it. We’re going to prove it. We’re going to win. And they did.
They weren’t just better than opponents. They were arguably the greatest women’s soccer team of all time, a juggernaut whose depth led defender Ali Krieger to proclaim weeks ago: “We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world.” A juggernaut who could bench Lindsey Horan, arguably the world’s best midfielder, and still boss around elite foes.
By Sunday, among fans, the outcome seemed all but a foregone conclusion. Such is the sustained brilliance of this USWNT and those that came before it.
For months prior to the tournament, there were warnings. Proclamations that the rest of the world was catching up and closing a Title IX-inspired gap. Predictions that France would ring in a new world order in the quarterfinals, or England in the semis.