It's hard to believe that before yesterday, it'd been 16 years since the United States won the Women's World Cup in soccer. Who knew on that fateful day in 1999, when Brandi Chastain made history by ripping her jersey off and making the sports bra famous, that we would go another decade and a half before we, America, would hoist the trophy again?
Well, it happened yesterday in the cozy confines of Vancouver, Canada. The United States climbed back to the top of the soccer world, a perfect capper to a weekend where we celebrated our nation's 239th birthday in style. U.S. head coach Jill Ellis' squad didn't do it methodically, the team did it emphatically, with an early barrage of goals that left their Japanese opponents with the same horrified, dazed look that Claire Danes had on her face during every preview of the next week's episode of Homeland.
By the time Carli Lloyd was finishing off her first half hat trick with a 55-yard goal from about midfield over the head of an out-of-position Ayumi Kaihori, the score was 4-0, and there was still more than 70 minutes of soccer remaining. The championship game had morphed into a coronation. The Japanese team made it interesting in the second half, cutting the lead to 4-2, but Tobin Heath would score moments after the second Japanese goal for the final margin of victory.
America was the big winner, but within the game, there were winners and losers. Let's highlight a few….
4. Abby Wambach
Wambach announced after group play that this would be her final World Cup. Wambach's name is in any conversation centered around the greatest international women's players ever, so this would be her last chance to remove the asterisk of "greatest player to never win a World Cup." Even though her role had diminished by the time the final had come around — she only played the final 11 minutes plus stoppage time on Sunday — her leadership was invaluable and apparent. Also, her farewell video was top notch….
3. Carli Lloyd
It's been quite the month for the 32-year-old Houston Dash midfielder. It started with former U.S. coach Pia Sunhage basically calling her a basket case in The New York Times. However, Lloyd rallied from that to become the United States' most explosive player, scoring six goals in the Americans' final four games, including the aforementioned hat trick in the finals. She was named the winner of the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player, and here's the great news, Houston....
2. Houston Dash
… Lloyd is coming back to a stadium (BBVA Compass Stadium, to be exact) near you! It will be fascinating to see what the uptick is in attendance for the Dash, because there will be one, if for no other reason than to welcome the players home with a congratulatory salute. The intriguing angle will be how long the uptick is sustained. This is the best opportunity that women's soccer has had to capture a slice of the U.S. sports viewing public's attention in its history, even more so than after the 1999 World Cup victory.
1. FOX coverage
I'm not sure if people realize how challenging and mentally taxing it is to cover a long term, slowly arcing event like a soccer World Cup. We are talking dozens and dozens of FOX employees away from their families for 40 days, some even longer. Overall, on the air, the studio crew recovered from a rocky start in which they universally seemed to sweep goalkeeper Hope Solo's domestic violence troubles under the rug, and put together a solid presentation over the last month or so. This bodes well for the summer of 2018 when FOX will have broadcast duties on the men's World Cup using many of the same lead personalities.
4. FOX viewership
As solid as FOX was on their overall coverage, I have to imagine that the lopsided nature of the final is going to translate into a smaller audience overall on Sunday evening for the game, although if there's one team whose blowout win America will sit through, it's America's. We all love a good coronation as long as it's America who wears the crown. I think overall the ratings for this World Cup will exceed FOX's expectations, but a close U.S. win was probably the desired outcome of the network's brass.
3. Ayumi Kaihori
Damn, this is the painful part of an event like the World Cup — if you're Ayumi Kaihori, you have to wait four more years to erase a memory like this one….
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I will admit that I didn't watch enough of this World Cup on the aggregate to form an educated opinion on the officiating, but from what those who did watch enough of the tournament are saying, it was not good. It was inconsistent, with either too many or too few calls in most of the games, culminating in a consolation game between England and Germany that nearly ended in a Pier Six brawl. But above and beyond all that, FIFA actually gives the referees medals after the tournament is over, which makes me wonder — is former NBA commissioner David Stern (a noted referee apologist) running FIFA as a puppet regime through Sepp Blatter?
1. UNDER bettors
There's nothing worse than having an UNDER bet on the total scoring for a sporting event that goes up in smoke in the first 16 minutes, but that's what happened Sunday. Four United States goals before some of the crowd was even back from their pregame trip to the rest room. The only good thing is that if all you had was the UNDER (the posted total was three goals), you could at least change the channel over to Celebrity Family Feud or Big Brother.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.