The USA and the Netherlands met on a hot evening in Lyon with a chance to emerge as world champions on the line. For the Americans, it was expected that they would be here and would win, the Dutch meanwhile have shown what is possible in women’s soccer with the right mix of talent and support from their national federation. In just their second world cup, the team in orange made it to the final on the heels of a European championship. Still, it would be among the greatest upsets in sports history if Holland were to pull off a win. In the end that wasn’t in the cards as goals by Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle along with a steady defensive performance gave the USA a 2-0 win.
For the USA, the match was an display of patient confidence. The Netherlands played a more defensive match and the Thirteen Stripes steadily tried to break them down. There were a few nervy moments, but it never seemed like the Dutch were a threat to score or pull an upset. In the end, the US forced an unnecessary foul to earn a penalty, Rose Lavelle danced with the ball to score a long range shot, and the defense held strong.
Faced with the option of go at the USA and hope not to get blown apart by the Americans or defend like hell and hope to steal a goal or get a lucky break, the Netherlands choose the later. While that lucky break or stolen goal didn’t come, the Dutch were very hard to break down. They were organized and they managed to play tough defensive soccer without resorting to ugly physical play. If the US had shown that they would come out firing to begin the halves in this tournament, the Dutch had an answer for that as well keeping a strong defensive shape to start the game and pressing to open the second half. In the end, it wasn’t enough for the Orange Lionesses and the USA brought home their second World Cup in a row.
Fateful choices and right decisions - in my opinion the World Cup writers were a little on the nose in the way that this one turned out, but finales are hard and in the end this one satisfied
Is. Jill. Ellis. Good. Actually? It was a question going into the final - we’d have an answer after 90 minutes. The lineup that Ellis selected included Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle, both of whom were on the ‘not serious, but serious enough to be rested or subbed early’ injury list against England.
On the one hand, Lavelle and Rapinoe could be subbed early if they couldn’t go the full 90+ minutes and if they were to come off the bench for Christen Press or Lindsey Horan, Ellis would risk burning a sub on a player that might not be 100%, on the other... well, gotta respect a manager who yells “WITNESS ME” in setting a lineup.
In the early going the Oranje Leeuwinnen stayed in their den - the Dutch were compact and organized, setting up in a pair of banks of four with two strikers playing as outlets. It worked well for the Dutch as the US had trouble creating any chances though the first 15 minutes. The flip side of that was that the attacks from the Netherlands were few and far between with US defenders preventing any tentative moves forward from turning into anything concerning.
Outside of a corner where the US tried a bit of a designed play, there was not much excitement as the Thirteen Stripes tried to breakdown the Netherlands.
For the most part, the US resorted to playing vertical passes to Rapinoe and Tobin Heath on the wings. The ball rarely found its target as the Dutch effectively shutdown the flanks and denied space for overlapping runs to the American fullbacks.
The Dutch attackers weren’t just planting tulips though. In the 26th minute, Holland collected the ball in their third while the US was searching for space to build an attack - a long ball cut the US lines and a footrace was on between Vivianne Miedema and Alyssa Naeher. Fortunately, the American keeper was quick off her line and cleared the ball, but it was the exact moment the team in orange was waiting for. Just two minutes later, Julie Ertz would rifle a shot off of a corner but a save by Sari van Veenendaal kept the score at nil-nil.
The US would keep wearing down the Dutch though and a pair of chances plus a long-range shot from Alex Morgan tested van Veenendaal just before the 40 minute mark. Holland would get another chance as Abby Dahlkemper gave up a foul about 30 yards from goal, but the kick from the Dutch would come to nothing. The Orange Lionesses would have a few chances in injury time as Miedema would make a nice run into the box leading to a deflected shot and a corner, the US would eventually clear the set piece but it was somewhat nervy as the first 45 came to a close.
Both sides would go into the half with positives and negatives. The Americans had looked dangerous after about the half-hour mark and had it not been for some fantastic saves by van Veenendaal, the score should have been at least 1-0. For the Netherlands, the defense was holding and they were getting glimpses of chances against the US. Pieces were set, the sides re-grouped as positional play and prophylaxis would be the story of the game.
The US would be forced to make a change to start the second half. Following a late clash of heads in the first 45, Kelley O’Hara was subbed for Ali Krieger. As the half got underway, the Dutch came out of their shell a bit and began pressing the US to disrupt the American buildup. Near the hour mark a VAR shout on a high-boot inside the box by Stefanie van der Gragt that connected with Alex Morgan would lead to a penalty for the USA. Up stepped Megan Rapinoe who would finally unleash the wave that would break the dam.
AND BREAK IT WOULD. The Netherlands would open the game up and the US withstood the attacks - though a nice run by Miedema should have created a chance. Then Rose Lavelle would reach into her bag of tricks and conjure a bit of magic just before the 70th minute.
For those keeping score, that’s Megan Rapinoe 1, Rose Lavelle 1, hamstrings, haters, and doubters zero. Well played World Cup writers.
The US would then take a familiar posture and change to the lineup of death assuming a 5-4-1 and Christen Press would enter the game for Rapinoe in the 79th minute. As the Netherlands looked for a way to get back into the game the Americans were successful at frustrating their attacks.
The US even had a few “ole” moments when Tobin Heath found herself with the ball inside the Dutch 18 yard box. Rather than force a shot or try and lob a cross, the crafty winger dribbled into and out of the goal area before being dispossessed. It was a beautiful display of time wasting and a wonderful alternative to falling over and rolling on the ground for 10 minutes.
As the game wound down, the US would make their final sub as American legend Carli Lloyd entered the fray for Heath. The team would see out the game and be crowned World Champions again.
American Legend of the Game - Rose Lavelle
It’s tempting to give this to a lot of players, but Rose iced the game in the most impressive way possible. Overall, the US won by playing as a team and the cohesiveness they displayed wore the Dutch down. But, Lavelle produced a moment of individual brilliance and put the match away for the Americans and firmly placed that fourth star on their chests.