Carli Lloyd celebrates one of her goals against Japan in the 2015 WWC final. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
VANCOUVER — Brilliant, simply brilliant.
There was no other way to describe the United States’ 5-2 victory over Japan in the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday.
Ditto and then some for midfielder Carli Lloyd.
With Lloyd leading the way with a superlative performance behind a 13-minute hat-trick in the opening half, the Americans earned their third world championship and first since 1999.
By the time Lloyd had secured her three goals, the USA enjoyed a 4-0 lead against the defending champions, who had allowed only three goals in their previous six games.
Not surprisingly, Lloyd was named the Golden Ball winner as the best player of the competition.
Her six goals tied her with Germany’s Celia Saskic for the tournament goal-scoring lead with six apiece. She received the Silver Boot Award.
“I call her my beast,” USA coach Jill Ellis said. “She is just unbelievable, a rock star. I am just so happy for her.”
Lloyd admitted that prior to the tournament she had visualized scoring more than three goals in a final.
“I dreamed and visualized scoring four goals,” she said. “If you’re mental state isn’t good enough, you can’t bring yourself to bigger and better things. I was on a mission today.”
Hope Solo received the Golden Glove Award as the most outstanding goalkeeper.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” Solo said. “Last night I had no doubt that we were going to win. I don’t know if it was destiny.”
The Americans also became the first team to win three world titles, having done so in 1991 and 1999 as they broke a 16-year drought.
“Did I envision winning? Yes,” Ellis said. “Did I envision lifting a trophy with five goals? That was a dream come true.”
It certainly turned out to be a dream come true for Abby Wambach, who finally won a world championship in her fourth and final try at the brass, err gold, ring.
“I literally don’t know how I feel,” she said. “It’s a bizarre thing that is going on right now because of the way it kind of happened.”
The game might have been played in a foreign country, but it definitely had the feel of a home match as the domed stadium reverberated with the chant, “USA! USA! throughout the game from the partisan crowd of 53,341 at B.C. Place. Vancouver is only 24 miles from the U.S. border and a three-hour car ride from Seattle, the closest major city.
Lloyd turned into a one-woman wrecking crew scoring twice in the opening five minutes.
First, she converted a Megan Rapinoe corner kick through traffic from eight yards in the third minute, flicking the ball past goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori for a 1-0 lead.
Barely two minutes later, the Delran, N.J. native and her teammates were celebrating yet again. This time Lauren Holiday sent in a free kick from the right side that Julie Johnston got a foot on. Lloyd found some room between defenders Azusa Iwashimzu and Saki Kumagai from point-blank range and deposited the ball into the net for a stunning two-goal advantage.
“I don’t think its entirely sunk in,” Lloyd said. “I’m so proud and so zapped at the same time. It is surreal. We just wrote history today, bringing the World Cup home.”
The Americans were far from finished. Lauren Holiday interrupted Lloyd’s brilliant performance with a goal of her own, her first of the competition, thanks to a defensive blunder. Tobin Heath sent a long ball from the right side into the middle that Iwashimzu misplayed. Holiday took advantage of the error and drilled a nine-yard shot for a 3-0 lead in the 14th minute.
Showing off her skill and vision, Lloyd completed her hat-trick in spectacular fashion. Taking a pass from Holiday at midfield, Lloyd noticed that Kaihori was standing too far out of the net and audaciously booted a long shot from 55 yards that the goalkeeper got her right hand on. The ball bounced one and off the left post and into the lower left corner for a 4-0 margin in the 16th minute.
“If you’re feeling good mentally and physically, it comes down to instinct,” Lloyd said.
Japan, scrambling to make the score respectable, got one back in the 27th minute when Yuki Ogimi ripped a shot from the top of the penalty area past Hope Solo. The goal snapped the Americans’ shutout streak at 540 minutes, tying it with Germany for the longest shutout streak in World Cup history.
The Japanese continued to push up in the second half. A 40-yard ball from the left side was sent into the penalty area and USA center back Julie Johnston jumped up to clear, but instead headed it into her own goal as the Americans’ lead was cut to 4-2 in the 52nd minute.
The three-goal margin, however, was restored only two minutes later when Heath slotted home a short pass from Brian Morgan from the right side from six yards for a 5-2 score line.
“They are an excellent team,” Japan coach Norio Sasaki said of the USA.
In the 2011 World Cup final, Japan rallied to defeat the USA in penalty kicks.
Asked what the difference in the American side was this time, Sasaki replied, “Their attack, their defense, especially the defense. They were very meticulous in the set pieces. “We really should have challenged them more closely. We could have given more trouble to the U.S. if we had worked harder in the beginning.”