In a tight and physical World Cup final, the United States wore down the Netherlands, scoring twice after halftime to repeat as champions of the competition, 2-0. Megan Rapinoe converted a penalty won by Alex Morgan and Rose Lavelle added a golazo to lift the Yanks to their second consecutive and fourth overall World Cup championship at the Stade de Lyon.
The Dutch, FIFA’s No. 8 team in the world, were game opponents in the final, entering without having lost a match or even trailed in the competition, but the U.S. ground them down over 90 minutes in the heat of Lyon’s Décines-Charpieu suburb.
For the final, Jill Ellis went with the lineup equivalent of an old pair of running shoes. It’s got a few holes in it and no longer offers the support it once did, but it feels good, it’s comfortable, and the prospect of breaking in a stiff new pair will just have to wait for another day.
Orlando Pride striker Morgan started up top in her usual spot between Rapinoe on the left and Tobin Heath on the right. The midfield (left to right) consisted of Sam Mewis, Julie Ertz, and Lavelle. The usual back line configuration of Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, and Kelley O’Hara started in front of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
Both teams played well defensively in the first half. The Netherlands forced the U.S. to play long diagonal balls to the wings and the Yanks struggled to find runners in the box for dangerous opportunities.
Most of the U.S. chances came from balls pinging around the area off set pieces, as the nature of playing early to outside runners kept the USWNT from getting enough bodies into the area to beat the numbers presented by the Dutch.
The first half chance came from a corner kick, as Heath headed toward goal and Lavelle picked up the rebound and attempted to fizz a cross through but goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal grabbed it and held on.
The first half chance for the Netherlands came in the 26th minute with a long ball for Lineth Beerensteyn looked dangerous until Naeher came outside her box for a last-second clearance.
Two minutes later, Lavelle crushed a shot but left it too close to van Veenendaal, who parried it away. O’Hara jumped on the rebound but skied her shot way over the crossbar.
The U.S. looked to have a legitimate penalty shout in the 37th minute when Alex Morgan won a race to a ball in the box and was shoved in the back, sending her face first into the turf. The referee saw nothing wrong with it, which was consistent with the nothing wrong she saw with several other times Morgan was clobbered by the Dutch defense in the opening half.
A minute after the no-call, Mewis hit van Veenendaal in the ribs with a diving header that would have opened the scoring. Morgan nearly scored seconds later, flicking a Rapinoe cross toward the near post but van Veenendaal made a good reaction save to keep it out by touching it off the post and prevented any rebound.
Morgan freed herself with an excellent touch and sized up a blast with her left foot in the 40th but van Veenendaal made a spectacular diving save to keep the game scoreless.
At the end of the half, Lavelle looked to be clearly fouled just outside the area out in front of goal. It wasn’t given and neither was it called when Rapinoe was bundled over, allowing the Netherlands to counter. It resulted in an eventual corner and after a few nervy seconds in the area the U.S. finally cleared and the halftime whistle blew with the teams still scoreless.
The U.S. held a slight possession advantage (53%) and out-shot the Dutch, 5-1 (4-0 on target), holding a 71%-64% advantage in passing accuracy.
Pride defender Ali Krieger replaced O’Hara after halftime, as the latter had sustained a clash of heads late in the first half and began showing concussion-like symptoms during the break.
The USWNT came out of the break looking to take control of the match. Morgan won a corner in the first minute and Ertz headed wide on the set piece. A weak Rapinoe shot at van Veenendaal and a shot well wide from distance by Dunn over the next couple of minutes were merely warning signs that the Yanks were coming and the Oranje were starting to crack under the pressure.
The game finally turned on a typical Morgan hustle play in the area. Stefanie van der Gragt came in with a flying kick that missed the ball and caught Morgan’s shoulder. The play was initially ruled a corner kick for the U.S. but after reviewing the play herself, the referee correctly awarded a penalty to the United States. Rapinoe’s spot kick froze van Veenendaal and that allowed the attempt to go in to the keeper’s left in the 61st minute, despite it not being very close to the corner.
That goal took the Golden Boot away from Morgan due to having played fewer minutes, although her campaign was aided in part by being the team’s penalty taker.
After falling behind, the Netherlands changed up the game plan and stopped sitting back, but that only served to open up the Oranje at the back. The only thing that kept the U.S. from going on and scoring half a dozen goals were off-line passes and heavy touches.
Lavelle doubled the lead in the 69th minute with a nice goal, stepping onto a pass from Mewis — after Dunn won the ball back — and using pace to get behind the midfield. She attacked the back line and used a Morgan outside run to free up space and drilled a perfect blast into the lower right corner where van Veenendaal couldn’t reach it.
Heath had several opportunities to add a third goal down the stretch but, looking exhausted, she tried to slow the game down in the box and look for the perfect shot, which never came.
Morgan had an opportunity to regain the Golden Boot in the 72nd minute, but she took a heavy touch that allowed van Veenendaal to come off her line and smother it. Dunn was sent in moments later by Rapinoe but fired her shot at the Dutch goalkeeper.
The Netherlands finally got a decent look at goal in the 77th minute, when Beerensteyn cut inside Krieger and fired a shot that went right at Naeher. Sherida Spitse sent a free kick just wide to the left in the 80th minute.
A few half-chances the U.S. shot right at the keeper and some excellent game management in the corners from Morgan and Krieger helped kill the game off and the USWNT subs ran onto the pitch to celebrate with their teammates.
Shots were 17-6 (9-1) in favor of the dominant U.S., which held 53% of the possession and a narrow advantage in passing accuracy (70%-69%).
Rapinoe was named the MVP of the match and added the Golden Ball to go along with her Golden Boot.
That’s a wrap on the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup! After a parade in New York City this week, expect some kind of USWNT victory tour to ensue at some point and steal three key players from further Orlando Pride matches this season. The United States will add that fourth star, and now we can look forward to the controversy turning from goal celebrations to how many players refuse their invitations to the White House. But who cares? We’re champions again, y’all.