In one extended triumphant moment, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team (USWNT) took France by storm and left with a fourth World Cup trophy — its second in a row — capped by a 2-0 defeat of the Netherlands. The victory doubles the trophy cabinet for former Stanford soccer players Kelley O’Hara ‘10 and Christen Press ‘11, and just 528 days after raising the NCAA trophy on the Farm, Tierna Davidson ‘20 became a World Cup champion.
The record-breaking USWNT cruised to the most goals in a tournament (26) and a game (13) en route to becoming just the second nation to win back-to-back titles. In the knockout round, the Americans went through a gauntlet of European opponents, including three consecutive 2-1 victories over Spain, host-nation France, and England, before the final with the Netherlands.
For the first time all tournament, the opening half began quietly for the USWNT on Sunday. In each of the preceding six games, the Americans had netted a goal by the twelfth minute, but there was no such scoring against the Netherlands by the time the whistle blew to signal the end of the first half.
The USWNT certainly had its chances, though, and if not for the efforts of Dutch captain and goalkeeper Sara van Veenendaal, the Americans would have netted a goal or two to show for it. The eventual Golden Glove winner for the tournament’s best keeper tallied four saves in the first half alone, including surviving a dashed flurry from Julie Ertz and Alex Morgan.
A forward during her time at Stanford, O’Hara led the nation in goals (26) in her senior year while winning the MAC Hermann trophy. On the world stage, however, O’Hara has transitioned to defense, right back specifically, and has stepped up in the physicality of the role. The development was on full display in France, but also caused her to miss the second half of the final due to a mid-air collision with Lieke Martens that prompted concussion-like symptoms.
“Winning a World Cup is the hardest thing you can do it football, and maybe in life,” O’Hara said. “I’d run through a brick wall if necessary. That’s what I was trying to do tonight.”
That same intensity was apparent entering the World Cup, when recovering from and ankle injury even O’Hara had doubts.
“Myself personally, it’s been a long, rocky road up to this point,” O’Hara said. “If you would have talked to me two months ago I wouldn’t have expected this, for myself especially, so I’m just really thankful right now.”
At halftime, Jill Ellis, the USWNT head coach who became the first coach to lead a team to two titles, told her team the game would break in their favor. It did, after a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) review awarded the Americans with a penalty kick on a reckless tackle of Morgan in the box. For the third time in the tournament, Megan Rapinoe calmly walked to the spot at the hour mark. After going left on her first two attempts, Rapinoe went right, sending van Veenendaal in the wrong direction, and guiding the ball to the back of the net.
The game subsequently opened up, as a Netherlands side that was content to sit deep in the first half found itself pressing. Space was opened up in the midfield, and Rose Lavelle took advantage, needing to bypass just one defender to put the ball on her preferred left foot before putting it past van Veenendaal.
In the 79th minute, Press became the second American substitute, entering for Rapinoe to once again help the USWNT ice the game. Twenty years earlier, Press was in attendance for the 1999 final in the Rose Bowl, when the USWNT clinched its second star with a penalty kick shootout victory over China.
“I think it was absolutely a moment where I dreamt,” Press said. “I saw the future, I saw what heroes those players were, and I can imagine that’s when I decided this is a goal.”
One of the stars of the ‘99ers team, Julie Foudy ‘94, sits on USWNT broadcasts and covers college soccer. When the Cardinal advanced to the College Cup in North Carolina last season, it was Foudy in the booth, watching Davidson on the sidelines in her last game in a Stanford uniform — in the final stages of recovery from an injury suffered in the third game of the season.
“I look back on that game with Tierna Davidson walking off the field because she couldn’t play,” Foudy said. “We were watching her walk off, and she was on her own.”
While Lavelle was the second-youngest player to score in a World Cup final, Rapinoe was the oldest, surpassing the mark set by Carli Lloyd four years ago in her hat-trick performance. In that tournament, Lloyd was awarded the Golden Ball for the tournament’s premier player, and her six goals and one assist were enough for the Silver Boot as the second highest scorer.
This time, Rapinoe earned the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot. Rapinoe’s six goals and three assists were matched by Morgan, but in more minutes, meaning the Cal alum was left with the Silver Boot. Lavelle, meanwhile, was named the Bronze Ball winner for her breakout World Cup, which included a trio of goals.
Nearly the entire sold-out crowd of 57,900 stayed beyond the final whistle as the Americans stormed the field and the Dutch collapsed. The crowd, led by the American Outlaws supporter section, led a chant of “Equal Pay” while FIFA presented its awards.
The team has been an icon advocating for equality throughout its history, a legacy which was carried on and grown throughout this tournament. A Nike commercial celebrating the victory interpolated the “I believe that we will win” chant to envision a future where children look up to female athletes.
“I don’t think it’s one day we’ll get there — we’re there,” O’Hara said. “There are little boys, and I know little girls, that say that and want to be like Megan Rapinoe”
The inequality in sports is something O’Hara said she first noticed during her time at Stanford.
“You can see the difference in what the football players, American football players, get compared to women’s soccer,” O’Hara said. “I went to an amazing athletic school in Stanford and they treated us really well, but [inequality] is par for the course, unfortunately.”
O’Hara, Press, Davidson and all 20 other USWNT heroes play club soccer in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). O’Hara and Press join midfielder Lo’eau Labonta ‘15 and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart ‘04 on a star-studded Utah Royals FC team.
Davidson, the first overall selection by the Chicago Red Stars in the most recent draft, was called before teammates Tegan McGrady ‘19 and Jordan DiBiasi ‘19, who were both selected by the Washington Spirit. The captain of the Spirit, Andi Sullivan ‘18, was drafted the year before and was recently named to June’s Team of the Month. The Cardinal are also represented in the NWSL by Houston Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell ‘17 and Orlando Pride forward Chioma Ubogagu ‘15.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.