USA vs. Japan: Winners and Losers from Women's World Cup 2015 Final
The United States defeated Japan 5-2 on Sunday in Vancouver, British Columbia, to become the first team to win the FIFA Women's World Cup three times.
American midfielder Carli Lloyd starred, scoring a 16-minute hat trick to cap off her Golden Boot campaign. Lauren Holiday and Tobin Heath also scored for the U.S., which claimed its first world title since 1999.
Yuki Ogimi pulled a goal back midway through the first half for Japan, which trailed 4-0 after just 16 minutes. An own goal early in the second half made it 4-2, but the U.S. held on for the victory.
Here are our choices for the winners and losers from the match.
Winner: Carli Lloyd
Sunday was truly a perfect night for Carli Lloyd. The 32-year-old midfielder could do no wrong, netting the quickest hat trick in Women's World Cup history and turning in perhaps the best World Cup final performance ever.
The brilliance started in the third minute, when Lloyd beat her marker to a Megan Rapinoe corner and flicked the ball into the net past Ayumi Kaihori. She scored again only two minutes later, wriggling free on another set piece to poke in her side's second.
But the best was still to come. In the 16th minute, with the U.S. already leading 3-0, Lloyd scored a goal for the ages. After accepting a pass a few yards inside her own half, Lloyd dribbled to the halfway line before taking an audacious shot on goal. And no wonder—having spotted Kaihori off her line, Lloyd sent a gorgeous shot off the goalkeeper's hand, off the post and into the net.
The goal will surely enjoy a long life in highlights compilations for obvious reasons. Because of the occasion and because of the skill, technique and audacity needed to pull it off, the goal will rightly be regarded as one of the best ever in international soccer.
And Lloyd will correctly go down as one of the most clutch performers in U.S. Soccer—and world soccer—history.
"Carli Lloyd isn't merely having one of the great days in U.S. soccer history," Fox Sports' Jon Morosi tweeted. "This is one of the greatest games in U.S. *sports* history."
Late in the match, when Abby Wambach entered as a substitute, Lloyd handed the captain's armband to the veteran striker. It was a classy move that underlined Lloyd's devotion to the team.
"I was just on a mission," Lloyd told reporters after the game, per the Associated Press (via the Washington Post). "I was on a mission to help my team win this game."
"I called her my beast, and she is just a beast, man," coach Jill Ellis added. "She's unbelievable. Rock star. Just so happy for her."
It's impossible not to be happy for Lloyd, who—like the entire U.S. team—played her best football as the tournament reached its climax. Following a somewhat slow start, Lloyd and the Americans eventually dominated the field.
For its combined excellence, the team lifted the World Cup trophy for the third time. For her individual heroics, Lloyd earned the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player and the Silver Boot as its second-leading scorer (she tied Golden Boot winner Celia Sasic of Germany with six goals but finished second on tiebreakers).
After their brilliant performances in the final, no one could deny Lloyd and the U.S. were worthy winners.
Loser: Azusa Iwashimizu
The reasons for Japan's defeat were many, and blaming only one player would be a mistake. But Azusa Iwashimizu played poorly in her 33 minutes on the pitch and was responsible for three American goals.
In the third and fifth minutes, as Carli Lloyd twice converted from set pieces, she beat Iwashimizu to the ball both times. In the 14th minute, Iwashimizu headed a poor clearance into the path of Lauren Holiday, who volleyed in the third U.S. goal from close range.
At the highest level, that was simply not good enough. Thus it was no surprise when Japanese manager Norio Sasaki took Iwashimizu out of the match before halftime, opting for an early substitution.
Winner: Jill Ellis
Through its first four games of the World Cup, the United States showed little that would have convinced most onlookers that a third world title was a strong possibility. The midfield was a mess, the attack was stagnating and teams like Germany and France looked far superior.
But when Lauren Holiday drew a booking in the round of 16 and thus a one-match suspension for yellow-card accumulation, coach Jill Ellis had to come up with a creative solution for her midfield. She settled on Morgan Brian, who replaced Holiday in the middle of the pitch for the quarterfinals and, by playing deeper and more defensively, unleashed Lloyd's attacking brilliance.
From that point on, the U.S. was a different team. Holiday returned in the semifinals and played alongside both Lloyd and Brian. Suddenly, the Americans had a balanced midfield and a potent attack. The team steadily improved, and on Sunday, we saw the culmination of that process as the U.S. and Lloyd exploded.
Ellis deserves credit for that and for tweaking her team. After using a 4-4-2 formation through the first five games, Ellis accommodated Lloyd, Holiday and Brian in the midfield by switching to a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 hybrid.
The latter worked brilliantly, and one could argue that both adjustments earned the U.S. its third world title.
Loser: Ayumi Kaihori
No one can take anything away from Carli Lloyd's magnificent performance Sunday night. But one absolutely can fault Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori for Lloyd's third goal.
Lloyd let it fly with her shot from less than a step into Japan's half. Simply put, no player should beat Kaihori at that distance.
In fairness to Lloyd, it was a perfectly executed shot. But Kaihori had to be more aware of her positioning. At that point in the game, already trailing by three, Japan could not afford to allow yet another goal.
By conceding in such a fashion, Kaihori effectively ended any chance Japan had of working its way back into the match—if there were any chance left.
Winners: Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone
Striker Abby Wambach and defender Christie Rampone are both legends of U.S. Soccer. At 35 and 40, respectively, both were playing in their last World Cup.
With the result secure, Ellis brought both legends on as second-half substitutes, giving each one last run-out on the game's biggest stage. It was a classy moment for the U.S. coach, and no doubt it was one that the players appreciated.
After full time, the two combined for another touching moment. Rampone, the team's captain (despite playing little at the tournament) and Wambach, the vice-captain, lifted the trophy together to cap off a memorable World Cup campaign for the U.S.