The United States waited longer than they had all tournament for their opening goal, but that made the celebration sweeter. One hour into a scoreless World Cup final, Netherlands defender Stefanie van der Gragt swung her boot high at Alex Morgan in a misguided attempt to stop the fearsome American striker from controlling the ball in the box. After a delayed VAR check, the referee awarded a penalty kick, and captain Megan Rapinoe calmly stepped to the spot and drove home the game’s first goal. Eight minutes later, Rose Lavelle added a second to seal the U.S.’s record fourth FIFA World Cup, 2-0.
This tournament belonged to the United States from the outset. Their record-breaking 13-0 win against Thailand in their opener was followed by shutout drubbings of Chile and Sweden. Each of their first three victories was marked by fluid buildup and open, attacking play. They played more conservatively in three tense matches in the knockout rounds against Spain, co-favorites France, and defending SheBelieves Cup champions England, but to the same end—three more wins. Their win against the Netherlands in the final felt similar to France’s win at the men’s World Cup last summer: Their victory was not unexpected. The entire tournament was a coronation.
As my colleague Zach Kram pointed out entering the final, the U.S. led the field in goals per game, shots per game, expected goals per game, shots on target per game, and expected goals allowed. They were the best team on both sides of the ball. They picked apart defenses through their brute strength, athleticism, and precision touches and finishes, and had the stingiest defense. The U.S. did not trail once in 630 minutes of play. They dominated the tournament from start to finish, and Sunday’s final was no different, even if it took a little longer to assert their influence on the game.
In each of their previous matches, the United States scored within the opening dozen minutes, but they didn’t record their first shot until the 29th minute—the game’s first as well—when Lavelle caught a loose ball waist-high and rocketed a shot that was parried by Dutch keeper Sari van Veenendaal. The save was her first of four in the opening half, which kept the Netherlands alive deep into the match. But in the end, the ferocity of the American attack was too much.
Rapinoe’s penalty goal was her sixth of the World Cup, and placed her ahead of teammate Alex Morgan for the Golden Boot, given to the tournament’s top scorer. She added the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player to her trophy collection as well. Lavelle’s strike just moments later—her third of the tournament—ended any chance of a Dutch comeback. Still, for much of the game, it seemed plausible that the Netherlands might be able to steal a victory.
The exclusion of Lindsey Horan—arguably the world’s best central midfielder—from coach Jill Ellis’s starting lineup became expected during the knockout rounds, and her absence in the final confirmed the U.S. would continue to play more conservatively with Sam Mewis as her replacement in the midfield. The Dutch planned accordingly, moving Dominique Bloodworth from center back, where she’d started all of the Netherlands’ previous games, to left back to provide more defensive cover in the wide areas. It was a signal that Dutch manager Sarina Wiegman believed the match would be played (and won) on the touchline, where Rapinoe and Tobin Heath feature for the U.S. She wasn’t wrong. Much as they had for the majority of the knockout rounds, the United States pushed up the pitch with a variety of long balls up the wings.
The Oranje prefer to play a more open game at a higher pace. It served them well in the previous rounds, allowing fearsome forwards like Vivianne Miedema and Lieke Martens to create in space and dissect foes, but left them vulnerable against the Americans’ plethora of attacking talent. The U.S. nearly doubled the Netherlands’ total of completed passes in the attacking third, and created 12 chances to their opponents’ three. And unlike their previous games, almost all of the USWNT’s opportunities came from open play.
The Dutch, to their credit, never stopped probing. They had chances at goal to close the first half, and nearly found the net in the 80th minute, when Sherida Spitse’s free kick nearly bent into the bottom left corner. Despite their best efforts, the Netherlands managed only one shot on target in five attempts. The United States, in comparison, challenged the keeper 10 times on 17 tries.
With their fourth championship, the U.S. now has half of the possible trophies dating back to the first women’s World Cup in 1991. The Stars and Stripes have been the dominant force in the sport since its inception, and despite this tournament presenting the largest-ever field of challengers to its throne, they managed to weather the competition unscathed. A French victory in the quarterfinal would’ve signaled, for the first time, a true equal in the global landscape. An English win in the semifinal would’ve marked the ascendance of a traditional men’s power. Had the Dutch won on Sunday, they would’ve introduced their own dynasty, having won Euro 2017. Any of those outcomes would have been a message that after nearly 30 years of American domination, the rest of the world (and specifically Europe, which claimed seven of eight places in the quarterfinals) was ready to challenge the United States year in and year out.
Maybe that change in tide comes in four years, when England can reap the benefits of its fully professionalized FA Women’s Super League. Or when Miedema, at 26, enters her prime for the Dutch. On Friday, the AP reported FIFA was exploring expanding the World Cup field from 24 to 32—not long after expanding from 16 to 24 at the 2015 edition of the tournament. Such a change would bring more competitors to the United States’s doorstep. In time, the U.S. might face a bevy of true, equal contenders. But for now, just as it has for the past 28 years, America sits alone on the throne.