USWNT’s Journey and What I have Learned

At the age of 10, I started to play football. The reason why I enjoyed the sport is because of the people I have met, the places I have been, and the lessons that I have learned. Unfortunately, I only started to watch the game when I was in high school or whenever the Men’s World Cup is shown. Everytime I come across football players, they would always ask me about the different leagues and players. But because I don’t really watch it, I don’t really give them an answer. It is Ironic that I have been playing this sport since I was in gradeschool but I never really paid attention to the teams and players of the leagues shown on TV.

Looking Back

In 2011, I stumbled upon the Fifa Women’s World Cup finals video on youtube. It was a match between the USA and Japan. USA lost to Japan in penalties which was very heartbreaking. Carli Lloyd and Tobyn Heath were the ones that missed the penalties but I instantly became a fan of the US Women’s National Team. Since then, I would always research about the players and the leagues they are part of. It is very sad that they do not show women’s football games on TV. Youtube became my bestfriend because aside from watching the games, I was able to watch several documentaries about the legendary 99ers.

My sister’s ball signed by the 99’ers

Before there was Abby Wambach, there was Mia Hamm. I remember reading a book written by her entitled, “Go for the Goal.” I was only 11 and football did not make that much sense to me. I only saw it as a game—nothing life changing or whatsoever. My sister, Sally Jo has this ball signed by Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastian, Julie Fowdy, and the like. I always wanted to play with it but she would always get mad at me because she said that it was history. I never really understood why until I watched the 99ers documentary. It was a touching film because it showed how the Women’s World Cup started and how the USA won the championship against China in the 99’ WWC. I felt very emotional watching the film because these women had to go through a lot of trials not only in winning the gold but also in creating awareness that women deserve the same support as men—proper funding, leagues, and etc. Now I have realized why my sister found the ball signed by those big names so damn precious. Winning the Women’s World Cup was just the tip of the iceberg for the USWNT. These girls fought hard to push Women’s football around the world—they proved that it was not only exclusive for men. They created history because they inspired little girls to play football and dream big. It eventually created a big following.

An Epic Journey to Win the Gold

After the heartbreaking loss in 2011, the US Women’s Football team bounced back by bagging the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics against Japan. Carli Lloyd scored both goals in the match. However, winning the WWC is still more prestigious than winning the Olympics. They had to prove a lot because they haven’t won the championship since 99’. But this year was different. They wanted the gold more than anything.

In the beginning of the WWC, many people bashed the team for playing so poorly. They expected a lot from them because people knew their capabilities. They had the deepest bench and the most experienced players such as Wambach, Lloyd, Boxx, Rampone, Solo, and etc. They also had very talented newbies such as Julie Johnston, Morgan Brian, Sydney Leroux, and Christen Press. In the group stages, they had to play Australia, Sweden, and Nigeria. Most called it the group of death but I think it’s because the USA was present in that group (HAHA). They beat Australia 3-1 with Rapinoe scoring 2 goals and Press scoring 1. It wasn’t the most beautiful game because they weren’t able to control the midfield. They lacked in attack even if the great, Wambach was present. Though they secured the three points, the fans were disappointed because it wasn’t the game of the USWNT they knew. In fact, the Matildas (Australia Women’s National Team) already assumed the USWNT’s play, “Play it long and look for the head of Wambach seems the default game-plan for a team stuck in the past.” Many netizens commented that if they continue to play like that, they wouldn’t reach the finals. But for me, it was too early to tell.

Their next game was more crucial because they were going against Sweden which was managed by their coach before Ellis, Pia Sundhage. Sundhage said a lot of awful things about her past team such as Wambach deserving to be a sub and Solo being really difficult to handle. In addition she stated, “Carli Lloyd was a challenge to coach… When she felt that we had faith in her, she could be one of the best players. But if she began to question that faith, she could be one of the worst.” Because of what she said, people were excited to watch the USA vs. Sweden match. Unfortunately, it ended with a draw. Again, people were disappointed because Sweden played a better game than the USA and they could have beaten USWNT if Megan Klingenberg was not standing next to solo inside the goal. It was the defense of USA that saved them in that match. Solid as a rock, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg, and Krieger stood out in that game.

Finally, in their last game in the group stages, Wambach scored her first and lone goal of the tournament against Nigeria which put them on top of their group. In the knock out stages, they had to play against Columbia. The game of football is very unpredictable because anyone has a chance to win. In Filipino they call it, “Bilog ang bola.” Columbia, the underdogs surprisingly beat France 2-0 in their group therefore many predicted that they would be giving USA a hard time. Columbia put in their third choice goalkeeper, Catalina Perez who really did a good job. The USA could not convert because Perez kept blocking their shots left and right. Unfortunately during the second half, Alex Morgan had a one on one situation and Perez was forced to go out of her goal. Instead of going for the ball, she tripped Morgan and the referee gave her a red card. She was sent out of the game and the USA was given a penalty. Wambach was chosen to take the penalty but sadly, she missed. A few minutes later, Morgan scored a goal because the goalkeeper accidentally deflected the ball in. The game was so dramatic because Holiday and Rapinoe got their second yellow card and were not able to play in the next match. But luck was on USA’s side because Rapinoe was fouled inside the box which resulted to a penalty. Lloyd took it and easily converted. Finally, the USA was able to breathe and they obviously won the game.

Jill Ellis experimented with the line up in their match against China PR by putting Amy Rodriguez on top with Morgan and Kelly O’ Hara in midfield. Still, people continued to bash the team because they expected more goals from them. They still had trouble with the build up from the midfield. Carli Lloyd was the lone goal scorer of the match which was enough to get them to the semi-finals against Germany. This was where many people predicted that Germany was going to beat them by a wide margin. I was really nervous because Germany is ranked number 1 and they have talented players like Sasic, Angerer, and Popp. However, the match was very shocking because this was the best game the USA played. Jill Ellis finally got the perfect combination. She put Morgan Brian on defensive mid so that Lloyd can attack. Ellis knew that their weakness was the midfield therefore she overloaded it with Lloyd, Heath, Rapinoe, Holiday, and Brian. Alex Morgan was left on top but Lloyd was there to help her out from time to time. During the second half, Julie Johnston fouled Popp inside the box.  Julie Johnston became emotional and started cry. It was so moving to see her teammates comfort and affirm her. Becky Sauerbrunn even held her face and assured her that they can still win the game. Luck was on the side of the USWNT once again because 2015 WWC top scorer, Sasic took the penalty but missed. The whole crowd went wild and minutes later the USWNT was also awarded with a penalty kick. As usual, Lloyd took the penalty and converted. It was then followed by a goal by super substitute O’Hara. This was only her second appearance in the WWC. When the final whistle was blown, everyone was ecstatic that the USWNT was going to finals again.

It was a rematch of the 2011 Women’s World Cup finals. Sports analysts predicted that USA was going to win against Japan (2-1). With the performance they showed against Germany, people had more faith in them that they would be able to clinch the title this time. I personally never lost faith in them because I knew that the team learned a lot from the loss in 2011—I WAS RIGHT. In the first 2 minutes, the USA was awarded a corner kick which was taken by Rapinoe. They are very strong in set pieces and I agree because Carli Lloyd was able to blast the ball at the back of the net. This was the first time they ever scored this early in the whole tournament because of their difficulties in offense. It was then followed by a goal by Lloyd again which was assisted by Holiday from a free kick. The crowd did not expect that they would have scored this early. More goals kept coming when a Japan player mistakenly cleared the ball. Holiday was left unmarked thus she executed a wonderful volley that directly put the ball at the back of the net. Then the most absurd goal ever in a Women’s World Cup final happened when Carli Lloyd lobbed the ball from the half-way line. The Japanese goalkeeper could not do anything about it. It went over her which left her stunned. Although Japan had more possession, they were not able to score enough to win the game. In fact, the other goal of Japan was an own goal by Julie Johnston. It was a legendary win for the USA. Tobin Heath scored the last goal of the game which made it 5-2. They wanted it more than anything therefore they became world champions once again. Finally, the fifteen year drought has come to an end.

Football and Life

Like I mentioned, I followed the USWNT’s since day one and the reason why I am writing about them is because they have inspired me a lot. The most difficult thing about their journey is that a lot of people criticized them and assumed that they were not going to make it this far. Of course, there were loyal fans out there who believed in them but there were more negative comments about them in this WWC especially with the presence of social media. I remember reading some comments on facebook about their games in the group stages and people were so harsh.  Some of them said that Jill Ellis wasn’t doing a good job while others said that Carli Lloyd didn’t deserve to be in the starting eleven. However everytime Jill Ellis would answer questions regarding that in the post-match conference, she would always tell the audience that she believes in the team and that they played a really good game even if many think otherwise. I admire Ellis because she did not let these comments affect her at all. Her positivity and trust in her team made a difference in this world cup. Yes, she had to make some changes but I believe that experimenting with the line up is part of the journey. They may have not started strong but it was enough to get them to the finals and finish stronger than ever.

Jill Ellis in the Post-match press conference  (14:50)

Carli Lloyd was the revelation in this WWC. She barely stood out in the group stages. In fact, people wanted her out of the starting eleven because the midfield was a disaster. But Ellis believed in her and started her in all games. Lloyd started to play her game when she scored against Columbia in the knock out stages. She started to gain momentum and was able to score more in the games after that. I admire her because in 2011, she missed a penalty in the WWC finals but she worked hard and was able to come back stronger. I am certain that that missed penalty haunted her therefore she made sure to convert whenever she is put in that same situation. According to Lloyd, she wanted it so bad. She would always envision herself scoring a lot of goals. Also, in a short film released by US Soccer, she said that if there’s one person to blame for her poor performance that would be herself. That made her even train harder.

What makes the 2015 Women’s World Cup special is that its presence was really felt all over the world. People followed it on TV, on the internet, and etc. Aside from its popularity, it has inspired many girls to follow their dreams and to do more than what they are capable of doing. These women have become role models. They showed us the importance of hardwork, discipline, perseverance, and integrity. Football may just be a game for some but for me it has changed my life.

Sources:

http://matildas.footballaustralia.com.au/article/australia-v-usa-4-things-we-learnt/1n4bb0tp772tw1kr49r0303wcs

http://metro.co.uk/2015/07/06/carli-lloyd-completes-15-minute-usa-hat-trick-with-insane-lob-from-half-way-in-womens-world-cup-final-5281777/

http://www.theguardian.com/football/live/2015/jul/05/womens-world-cup-2015-final-usa-v-japan-live

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