On July 5, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team defeated Japan in the Final of the 2015 Women’s World Cup by a score of 5-2. The outcome was never in doubt as the U.S. jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first 15 minutes of the match behind Carli Lloyd’s hat trick. The American women avenged their defeat to Japan in the 2011 World Cup Final and won the prestigious tournament for the first time since the Mia Hamm-led 1999 squad. The Americans also won the tournament for the third time overall, more than any other nation.
Admittedly, I’m late to the party here. I was slow to get into soccer (where I’m still a novice) and even slower to get into women’s sports. Growing up and into my 20s, I was pretty dismissive of women’s athletics and female athletes. But a funny thing happened: I got married and I now have two girls of my own. I’ve had them involved in sports since they were both old enough for three year old t-ball. As it would happen, both of my girls have shown a real interest in soccer, forcing me to jump in with both feet.
I’ve learned the ropes of soccer, but more importantly, I’ve gained a newfound appreciation for women’s athletics. With my girls, we’ve watched all sorts of sports because I believe it’s important for them to see that, yes, girls can plays sports. Not only can they play, but they do so very well. As the girls’ interest in soccer has increased, we’ve become huge fans of the Women’s Soccer team at the University of Kentucky. Head Coach Jon Lipsitz was nice enough to give us a tour of the recently completed Bell Soccer Complex and gave my girls a goal to shoot for: If you work hard enough, you can be a Wildcat soccer player.
We watched every U.S. match during the run to the World Cup title. By the time the team had completed group play, my oldest knew the roster forward and backward and had a firm understanding of the strategy head coach Jill Ellis was employing to move the US team toward the title. The Americans won their group in what was uninspiring fashion. The team didn’t look championship caliber, particularly on the offensive end. Coach Ellis changed the formation for the knockout stages and did something not a lot of coaches would have done; she moved longtime star Abby Wambach to the bench.
The revamped American attack scored 7 goals total in the semifinal against Germany and in the Final against Japan. Not only were they scoring, but the upgrade in the offensive pressure made the impressive defense that much better. The American defense gave up a goal against Australia in their first match of the tournament and didn’t give up another until they had scored 4 goals against Japan in the Final. The Americans were just short of the German team record of 540 shutout minutes for a single World Cup.
The U.S./Japan Final matchup was the most watched soccer match in U.S. TV history. According to the website Awful Announcing, the Final drew a whooping 26.67 total viewers on Fox and Telemundo. Per Fox Sports:
The USA’s emphatic 5-2 victory over Japan in the FIFA WOMEN’S WORLD CUP 2015™ final, America’s first Women’s World Cup championship since 1999, is the most- watched soccer match in U.S. history, according to Nielsen. The match posted a prodigious 12.9 household rating/share with 25.4 million viewers, and peaked at 30.9 million between 8:30-8:45 PM ET.
Part of those numbers could be simple nationalism for the Red, White and Blue, but we could be at a turning point where women’s sports and female athletes move more into the mainstream.
For years, “playing like a girl” was a derogatory schoolyard taunt. In 2015, it means playing hard, playing well and being the best in the World. It’s about time we all learn to play like a girl. So, thank you Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Lauren Holiday, Sydney Leroux, Kelley O’Hara, head coach Jill Ellis and the rest of the players coaches and staff. Thank you for playing hard and bringing the hardware back to the U.S.!