It was December 2014 and the draw for the 2015 Women’s World Cup had just finished. I called my mom and said, “Okay, are we going to the final?” We had already decided to visit scenic Winnipeg for the first two group games.
“I think we have to.” We were going to Vancouver.
Fast forward to July 1. I was on a plane with nothing more than four days worth of U.S.A.-related clothing and my American Outlaws scarf. I was ready. I’d seen the U.S. Women’s National Team beat Australia in a thriller, basically saved by Meghan Klingenberg’s header off the goalline, and tie in a nerve wracking (I don’t think I was able to breathe for that 90+ minutes) game with Sweden.
There had been conversations about how they weren’t going to do it. They couldn’t beat Colombia, then China and then powerhouse Germany with the way they had been playing. I’d watched from my Northeast Ohio soccer bar as they did it. I held my breathe and kept the faith, I’ve learned that with this team. I’ll always say it, you have to peak as a team at the right time.
I landed in Vancouver with thousands and thousands of USWNT fans. The energy was unbelievable. It felt like we were in any big soccer town in the United States. Everywhere you went, people had U.S. Soccer gear on. We did the touristy things a few days as a family. We visited Jack Poole plaza to see the taping of the nightly World Cup Nightly was taped to see soccer stars like Eric Wynalda, Leslie Osborne, Heather Mitts, Kelly Smith, Alexi Lalas, Monica Gonzalez and a new fan favorite Ari Hingst. We wore our gear and found a spot in the crowd.
The day arrived. It was game day. The USWNT was playing familiar foe Japan, who they had lost to in the 2011 Women’s World Cup. We found a bar to grab lunch and beers at before the game and then headed over to BC Place Stadium. We were super early but I wanted to get to my seat and really take in the stadium and pre-game practice. We watched the warm-ups as a haze settled in from recent and nearby forest fires. It was hot but luckily I was in the shaded corner. My family took photos together with friends we had met along the way, and our traditional one with an American flag. People were dressed in everything from masks, to face paint and anything red, white and blue they could find. I was surprised by how many of the Canadian fans wanted Japan to win but all the banter was in fun. The crowd was 70-75% American fans, at least, and every age was represented.
The teams took the field for the national anthem ceremonies, and I could feel the nerves going up my spine. I’d see these games start good and some start bad. We all sang the national anthem, my favorite part of any U.S. Soccer match. I love the feeling of everyone really behind a time and supporting their country.
Kick-off. I was on the edge of my seat. We were about 10 rows up and I could feel the energy from the field. Three minutes passed by and you could tell the USWNT was out for blood. A corner kick to Lloyd’s boot gave the USWNT the early lead, the fastest in a Women’s World Cup final, in the third minute. After accidentally smothering my mother in excitement, I relaxed some but knew how tactical Japan could be. Then, two minutes later, a free kick from Lauren Holiday and a poke from Lloyd gave them the 2-0 lead. Could this be happening? The game got into more of a rhythm and the fans were chanting loudly, excited by the scoreline.
Holiday scored in the 14th minute and I was in pure disbelief, this was amazing! It couldn’t get any better! Oh, was I wrong. Lloyd got the ball in the 16th minute, took a few strides and chipped the keeper from midfield. I don’t really remember what happened in that moment, although I’m pretty sure we all just looked at each other and I kept repeating, “OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD.” It all felt like slow motion.
At that point, any fans in the stadium that weren’t rooting for the USWNT, were fairly quiet. Japan did their best to regroup but just couldn’t overcome the eventual 5-2 scoreline. (You can watch clips to see more of what happened the rest of the game.)
Vancouver was a party. We were close enough to see the players run over to their families in the stands as they won the tournament that hadn’t been won by the USWNT since 1999. We stood in our seats through all the ceremonies and for a while after, until my dad said “OK, we’re just watching kids play in the confetti. Let’s go.” In disbelief that the 2015 Women’s World Cup was over. It’d been a month of emotion, fun and excitement, one I’ll surely never forget.
A year later, the feelings are still raw. Watching them get a ticker tape parade in New York City? Amazing. This was my Cavs championship. My Browns Super Bowl. My Indians World Series. What I have always considered my “home team."
Even more amazing, the steps the USWNT have taken to make equality a norm. They give young girls—heck, even 27-year-old girls—the motivation to make life the best they can. They have been given the platform to move women’s sports forward, fighting for equal pay and more. I can’t wait to look back someday and tell my kids or grandkids about what I witnessed that day. Sure, it’s just soccer but it was also a step forward. And who will ever forget that Carli Lloyd chip? Not me.