Mission Accomplished – A Way-Too-Soon Retrospect Of The 2019 US Women’s World Cup

One of the hardest things is sports is living up to expectations cast upon a team. It’s even harder when those expectations come from an entire nation.

But for the United States women’s soccer team, no problem. Mission accomplished.

Heading into the 2019 World Cup, the U.S. team was ranked number one in the world and was the prohibitive favorite to defend the title they won in 2015.

The roster was full of stars, from Alex Morgan to Tobin Heath to Megan Rapinoe. Many, including me, thought this team was very close to being unbeatable. How do you play with that kind of pressure hanging over you? How does a coach prepare a team to play hard in the early games and not look ahead to tougher opponents lurking deeper in the tournament? A daunting task for sure.

The few doubts anyone may have had about the team and their readiness were quickly put to rest in the first game when they trounced the lowly Thailand team 13-0. They came out blazing and never looked back.

Just a quick comment here. I was critical of that game for the outrageous score and lack of professionalism I felt the U.S. displayed. Many disagreed with me, but I still stand by my viewpoint. I will say it again: No matter the level of competition, whether it be the World Cup or recreational soccer, there is no need to embarrass an opponent. And I would say the same thing if it were the men’s team. I just felt the team could have taken its foot off the gas in a respectful manner and not have subjected the Thai program to that level of humiliation.

However, the U.S. team did a nice job of setting aside that criticism and not letting it be a distraction. They went on to outscore their opponents 20-1 in the group stage and the first game of the knockout round to set up a mouth-watering matchup with the French in the quarterfinals.

In January, France beat the U.S. 3-1 in the team’s tournament preparations. It sent shock waves around the world. Were the French women, ranked No. 4 in the world, capable of slaying Goliath in the World Cup?

The French were fast, physical and well-coached. Many considered this game the ‘true’ final as the Les Bleues were the hottest team coming into the tournament. The game lived up to the hype and was exciting from start to finish. An early goal settled the U.S. nerves, and they were able to fend off France 2-1 to move into the semi-final.

For me, this was a huge hurdle for Team USA, giving them the energy and confidence boost they needed heading into the semi-final and final. They handled England 2-1 to get to the final against the Netherlands.

Honestly, the final lost a bit of its luster when the No. 2 ranked Germans got shocked by Sweden in the quarterfinal and a much-anticipated Germany-USA final didn’t happen.

The game against the scrappy Dutch was exciting in that it was a World Cup final, but I felt it was a mere formality because the Netherlands just didn’t have the same level of talent. In fact, it was exciting only because the U.S. didn’t play very well.

Superior talent most always prevails, and it did on this day. But Team USA looked nervous, lacked possession for long stretches of time and not many dangerous goal-scoring chances were created.

A questionable penalty call gifted the U.S. a free kick in the 61st minute, which Rapinoe buried,  relieving the pressure. The game’s true display of skill and composure came shortly after the penalty kick when Rose Lavelle, who had a brilliant tournament, dribbled into the Dutch defense and fired off a missile that found the back of the net.

From there it was celebration time for the team and all the fans and followers back home.

One number I found telling was the TV viewership totals. The women’s final was watched by nearly 16 million people, which means 22 percent more Americans watched that than watched the men’s World Cup final last year. Yes, the U.S. men’s team was nowhere to be found in that tournament, but to see the women’s game rise to this level is hugely impressive. 

Now if only the financial compensation was on par with the men, that would be even more monumental. But I’ll leave that topic for another day.

These women deserve all the accolades they are getting. They pulled it off. They came in the favorite and left with the trophy. Look around at other sports. How often do the favorites win it all? Not as often as you would think. Just ask the Golden State Warriors.

Congratulations to Team USA. A great time for soccer in the United States.

About John D. Hunter 55 Articles
John D. Hunter is Montana native but grew up in the Tacoma/Seattle area and proudly attended Washington State University. He is a former morning show producer on KJR SportsRadio in Seattle. For 7 years he produced ‘Knight in the Morning’ with Michael Knight and New York Vinnie. From there he moved to ESPN.com where he spent another 7 years as an Interactive Editor and Soccer reporter/writer. He has covered 3 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, 1998 World Cup in France and many more sporting events.