June 26, 2015.
Days before the U.S. quarterfinal in Ottawa, Ontario, I concluded that, sadly, I was one of few American soccer fans who had traveled across the border to cheer on our women’s soccer team. As I explored the city, my eyes wandered amongst the pedestrians searching for proud U.S.A. apparel or some sort of “American look.” I couldn’t get a good read, but being the person that I am, I was certain that the stands would be stripped of U.S. stripes.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. A huge grin spread across my face while walking down the steps of my hostel…it turns out us Americans had been incognito (at least, in my mind) or drove just for the game to save some mullah. My boyfriend and I took off in our simple U.S. jerseys to visit the Ottawa locks, and around every corner, we met the eyes and nod of an approving fellow American or a hearty, “Go, U.S.A.!!!” We were everywhere. The streets were adorned with red, white, and blue — official U.S. women’s jerseys and hipster patriotic tank tops, Uncle Sam shirts and outrageous ‘Merica shorts. On the sidewalks with our huge Nikon cameras, we nearly outnumbered the Canadian locals, who smiled in good spirit or teased us with, “Good luck when you play Canada.”
That evening, we each stood in line to board the free, school bus shuttles with excitement, anticipation, and a bit of fear. The day before, the Ottawa Citizen had printed a biting article criticizing the U.S. team’s “lack of offensive firepower.” They showed skepticism toward the American team’s self-proclaimed shield against the media, and the thesis of the piece was that “winning ugly hasn’t won them much praise.” It was true — we had watched the U.S. play Australia, Sweden, and Nigeria in the group rounds with ambivalence…proud to have moved on to the next game but a little dismayed at the uncharacteristic inconsistency in gameplay. But we believed. Even the skeptical among us still secretly believed.
We stepped off of the buses onto the plaza that surrounds TD Place. Making our way towards the bright orange stadium, we stared in awe at the crowds of people: children playing soccer on miniature fields, red-shirted Chinese soccer fans pounding a beat on drums, U.S. fans decked out in the craziest hats and clothing they could find. An impressive glass cinema towered to our right, and a nice burger joint had a line out the door to our left. Soaking in the atmosphere, I sensed no animosity or bitter competitiveness between the two groups of fans; some arrogant jubilance as if the victory was certain, for sure, but also respect and unbridled energy.
Tickets checked and poutine in hand, our mouths gaped in amazement at the bright, open stadium. It was breathtaking–the camaraderie among the U.S. side was palpable. After some friendly chitchat and crappy pictures of the team warming up, the game began.
The first half exuded American dominance and possession but produced no goals. We took over 15 shots but had few on goal. The threat of the Chinese scoring seemed slim despite their technical prowess. We played hard, perhaps even intimidated the Chinese team, but could not finish. Julie Johnston remained the bastion for the fullbacks as Alex Morgan quickly maneuvered around their opponents, attempting to score. Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux sat the bench, and Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday sat apart from the team due to their one-game suspension. Chants of “U.S.A.!” and “IIII believe that WE WILL WIN!” echoed throughout the stadium and were countered by Chinese songs and battle cries, their underlying meaning still translatable.
Suddenly, in the 73rd minute: Johnston crossed the ball to the mosh pit of players in the goal box. Carli Lloyd jumped, legs karate-kicking, above it all and powerfully headed it into the right corner of the goal.
By the end of the game, the U.S. had proved that they were still the same fierce team with no thoughts of rolling over during this World Cup. However, their passion didn’t go unchallenged or unchecked.
Flash-forward to the semifinals: U.S. vs. Germany, June 30th. In direct contrast to the stoic strategy of the Chinese, Germany immediately burst into battle blitzkrieg-style, pressuring the U.S. team in every moment and causing mistakes. The first 5 minutes looked disastrous for the U.S. as we played catch-up, disoriented by the fast, aggressive movements of the Germans. To top it off, the U.S. gave a penalty kick to the German team after a heart-broken Johnston held a German player back from scoring. Lucky for us, Germany’s Celia Sasic missed entirely. Even luckier was the fact that Carli Lloyd scored a penalty kick just minutes later. Although slightly relieved, U.S. fans held their breath–Germany was not giving up without a fight.
As the game wore on, the U.S. calmed down, maintaining composure against attacks and (arguably) out-playing their opponents. What some were already criticizing as, if the U.S. won, an undeserved win was completely silenced during the 84th minute. The U.S. weaved the ball fast and Ping-Pong style around German defenders to Kelley O’Hara, who scored the second goal of the game. Germany’s spirit fought back, faded, quickly broke.
Today, the U.S. will play in the Women’s World Cup final against Japan, who beat the U.S. during penalty kicks in the final of Germany 2011. What began as a rocky start for the U.S. team has transformed into a rematch for revenge. The U.S. has a #ScoreToSettle with Japan. And if they keep the fire and ferocity of their recent play ablaze, they are certain to come out victorious.