By Ross Kelly
After a month of action on the
grass turf fields of Canada, we have finally reached the Women’s World Cup Final. As many expected, the United States Women’s National Team is here after defeating Germany 2-0 in the semifinals. Their opponent, Japan, is more of a surprise as they took the lead in extra time vs. England to advance to their second straight WWC Final. The USWNT will be going for their record-breaking third WWC title while Japan looks to join the US and Germany in the two-title club. The action gets started at 7p EST from BC Place in Vancouver and here are five things to know in advance.
Age vs. youth
Ten of the 23 players for the USWNT are at least 30 years old including Megan Rapinoe who turns 30 today. Like most sports, soccer is a young (wo)man’s game so for a lot of these players; this is their last World Cup. Captain Abby Wambach is 35 and no longer the centerpiece of the USWNT like she was for most of the past decade. But she wants to end her career on a high note and they don’t get any greater than the World Cup. The Japan side has just six players over 30 so they may have the fresher legs but the US has the edge in experience.
Strength vs. strength
The USWNT has undoubtedly been the best defensive team in this tournament. They haven’t allowed a goal in 513 minutes and are just 28 minutes away from breaking the all-time tournament record set by Germany in 2007. On the other side Japan’s Aya Miyama has been a maestro as a midfielder by creating a tournament-leading 22 chances. The USWNT back four, and particularly Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg, will be vital in controlling Miyama’s touches. They have been dominant all tournament long, but they haven’t faced a player like Miyama and this matchup may be the pivotal one to watch.
As if being the “World Cup Champion” wasn’t prestigious enough, there will be bragging rights on the line as this is the pseudo-rubber match between these two squads. Japan defeated the US in the 2011 WWC Final and then the US defeated Japan in the 2012 Olympics Final. The Olympics isn’t on the same level as the World Cup but it is a high-level tournament (unlike men’s soccer in the Olympics, women’s soccer isn’t restricted to players aged 23 and younger). Despite the USWNT holding a 24-1-6 record against Japan, that one loss in 2011 was on the biggest stage and only a victory here can erase that game from memory.
One last Hope?
As a side effect of the US having a dominant defense in the tournament thus far; GK Hope Solo has been relatively untested throughout the tournament. US fans are certainly hoping it stays that way throughout the final but Solo will have to step up if needed in what could be her last World Cup game. Apart from her age (turns 34 in three weeks), Solo has been a huge distraction for American soccer over the past few years. It may be time for the USWNT to turn the page after this tournament and give their younger keepers chances.
The defining moment?
The last time the USWNT won the World Cup, Brandi Chastain scored in a penalty shootout to give the US the win. She then infamously ripped off her jersey and made “sports bra” the #1 trending topic in the world (if Twitter existed in 1999). That moment remains one of the most famous in sports history and it would be cool to see another like it. For the sake of Laura Bassett, we need another defining moment in this tournament so it’s not best remembered for her own goal that enabled Japan to advance to the final.