The greatest women's team of all time

Before the 2019 Women's World Cup even started, the French press dubbed the U.S. women's national team "l'ogre américain."

The American beast entered the European den and crushed everyone in its path en route to a fourth world championship.

Women's soccer is changing quickly with European nations pouring more resources into the game than ever before, but for now, they're still no match for the USA.

After easy wins over Thailand (13-0) and Chile (3-0), the USA faced five European teams, all ranked in the top 13 in the world, and beat them all, beginning with Sweden, which went on to finish third in the tournament after losing its group match to the USA, 2-0.

In the round of 16, Spain proved to be the USA's longest holdout. The battle of Reims quickly turned nasty, and it wasn't until the 75th minute that the USA went ahead for good when not for the last time in the tournament it was awarded a penalty kick thanks to VAR.

The quarterfinal against host France was billed as the "match of the century." It took the Bleues, urged on the majority of the capacity crowd at the Parc des Princes, more than an hour to grow into the game, but when they did they waged an assault that was so impressive U.S. coach Jill Ellis said it was the most intense game she had every been involved in.

The semifinal against England was billed as another "final before the final," and it was the one game in which the USA needed some luck. After playing its best soccer of the tournament in the first half hour, the USA sat on its 2-1 lead and almost paid the price in the second half. VAR wiped out a tying England goal for offside, and nerves got the best of the Lionesses' captain, Steph Houghton, whose weak penalty was saved by keeper Alyssa Naeher in the 84th minute.

The final against the Netherlands, the reigning European champion, was anticlimactic. The Dutch also entered Sunday's final in Lyon with a perfect record, but they showed signs of fatigue.

Lieke Martens, the 2017 FIFA Women's Player of the Year, injured her toe celebrating her winning goal in the round-of-16 match against Japan and wasn't a factor the rest of the tournament. The heat wave that struck France got so bad that the Dutch, forced to kick off at 3 p.m. against Italy in the quarterfinals, pleaded -- unsuccessfully -- to get the start time in Valenciennes pushed back. Compared to the USA-England barn-burner, the Netherlands-Sweden semifinal the next night in Lyon was a snoozer.

In the final, Dutch keeper Sari van Veenendaal twice denied Alex Morgan with spectacular saves and parried a fierce shot by Julie Ertz to keep the match scoreless at the half, but it never looked like the Netherlands would reward the thousands of orange-clad fans who made their way to Lyon with a goal.

The biggest scare for the USA came when Kelley O'Hara couldn't return to start the second half after being involved in a collision with Martens at the end of the first half, and Becky Sauerbrunn needed a bandage to repair a cut on her forehead.

Ellis wasn't worried.

“I said to the players at halftime at some point it’s going to break, and it’s going to break our way, whether that’s through a penalty kick, a set-piece or open play transition," she said. "I just felt that we would have our opportunity.”

VAR came to the USA's rescue again when French referee Stephanie Frappart missed a foul by Stefanie van der Gragt on Morgan but pointed to the spot after being alerted by her VAR crew and watching the replay for herself. Other penalty kick takers had missed -- the English missed three times from the penalty spot -- but Rapinoe calmly slotted the ball to van Veenendaal.

It was then Rose Lavelle's turn to finish off the Dutch. The tiny midfielder had been the best player on the field for the first half against England, and she was rewarded in the final, scoring after leaving van der Gragt befuddled at the top of penalty area.

But for van Veenendaal in goal and some dilly-dallying by U.S. attackers in alone on the Dutch goal, the final score could have been easily 6-0 or 7-0.

Considering the target on their back and all the different issues -- equality, pay quality, gender -- they carried willingly on their shoulders, the 2019 U.S. Women's World Cup champions will go down as the greatest women's team of all time.

Photo: Gwendoline Le Goff/Panoramic/Icon Sportswire

12 comments about "The greatest women's team of all time".
  1. Bob Ashpole, July 8, 2019 at 5:52 a.m.

    Good article, Paul. Sometimes praise gets carried away, but not here. The entire team deserves the credit. The coaching staff lead by Ellis was just as brilliant as in 2015, putting the players in the best position to succeed. It was clear to me that the former internationals seen on TV were extremely impressed with the team's performance against the toughest competition seen yet. 

    Although it would reduce the advantage of the US depth, FIFA really needs to add more rest days to the schedule. The Olympics is worse because they have the same quick schedule but with smaller squads. 

  2. beautiful game, July 8, 2019 at 4:41 p.m.

    "Greatest Team of all Time"? IMHO, not quite deserved of such a kudo. 1990s USWNT was far better as most of its roster players were technically superior to the current squad; except for Lavelle and Rapinoe  who have that kind of soccer dna.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, July 8, 2019 at 5:25 p.m.

    I see the defining characteristic of the early WNT to be their fierce competitive spirit, a characteristic which is shared by the present team. I like this quote best, coming from a diminative quiet player looking like the little girl from down the street: 
    “You don't just want to beat a team. You want to leave a lasting impression in their minds so they never want to see your face again.” -- Mia Hamm.

  4. R2 Dad, July 8, 2019 at 4:59 p.m.

    Will have to agree with BG here. Maybe Best Women's Team So Far. There was very little personal skill on the ball, Lavelle aside. We weren't oohing awing about phenomenal interplay, precise passing in tight spaces, amazing defensive recoveries. It's mostly that the team just wins. Nothing to take away from the ladies, they are efficient scoring machines against this current crop of opponents. But I think Europe is awakening to the womens version of the sport, Japan is more technical than eve--parity is coming to the sport and that will make it more interesting. Until 2020, let's celebrate our fourth star. 

  5. Wilson Taguinod replied, July 9, 2019 at 2:50 a.m.

    Along with Beautiful Game, you failed to mention Tobin Heath who I consider the best ball handler in the US (men included).  She works well in tight spaces, along the touch line, and has great vision.  A joy to watch.

  6. Richard Broad, July 8, 2019 at 5:36 p.m.

    It's hard to determine whether it was this team or the 1999 team, or the first team to win The Women's World Cup, or....... It's a composite. How do you say the word "DYNASTY"?

  7. David Decker, July 8, 2019 at 8:15 p.m.

    If they really believed they had the best team in the world AND the second best team in the world, then they should have put the second best team out there for the final.  

    They were amazing and certainly deserved the trophy, but its statements like the one I refer to that give the haters ammunition.  What's wrong with a little humility?

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, July 8, 2019 at 10:06 p.m.

    Come on David. I see it as a difference of opinion, not an exageration, coming from someone who speaks from first hand knowledge. Even some of the foreign press were saying that the second team is good enough to have made the quarterfinals. Any other nation would be happy to have them.

    The US depth IS its greatest strength.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, July 8, 2019 at 11:21 p.m.

    The player who said that is Kreiger, who subbed for O'Hara at halftime in the final, and has over 100 caps. She convinced me.

  10. Michael Hoyer, July 9, 2019 at 1:10 a.m.

    Coaches and referees will always be second guessed.  In 2017 the only woman certain to be in France in 2019 was Jill Ellis.  She and her team deserve the plaudits they presently are receiving that is years of investment and development.

    The GOAT team? Great subjective discussion.  The 99ers have the long term impact of being pioneers who still promote the game via their legacy.  The 19ers have an opportunity to turn this success into something greater.

    And, to further the subjectivity, Rose Lavelle was the player of the match for the final.  The goal, the passing, possessing the ball in tight spaces, the box to box coverage, and more.  

    Nice piece Paul and thanks for your objectivity and quality throuhgout the World Cup.

  11. John Daly, July 9, 2019 at 5:01 a.m.

    Branded as arrogant, aloof, classless by some of the European media, the US showed the highest level of teamwork throughout the tournament. People mistook 
    “if they are down, keep them down” for arrogant and classless. Jill Ellis and her staff convinced the team that their belief in each other was paramount in the psychological make up of the team. Her team management was of the highest order; managing the many egos which make up an international team is never easy. Ali Krieger’s statement that the US back-up players were the second best team in France may have smacked of arrogance to some, but many saw it as a statement of belief in one another. Her display when replacing. Kelley OHara in the final spoke volumes for that belief. Pundits were saying that European teams were catching up. Maybe they are, but the US will not relinquish its crown without one heck of a fight! How many teams could leave the likes of Horan, Press, Lloyd, Pugh, Krieger and Harris on the bench? Well done, USA and Team Ellis!

  12. Ginger Peeler replied, July 9, 2019 at 10:51 a.m.

    John, you hit the nail on the head! 

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