I was 15 years old when my family packed up and headed from Cashmere, Washington, to the Rose Bowl in the summer of 1999. Months earlier, on a whim, we’d purchased tickets to the final of the Women’s World Cup. We thought it would be a nice excuse for a mini-vacation.
We marched up to our seats in the rabid heat, just one row back from the very last in the giant stadium. We had no idea what we were in for.
Fifteen years old when Brandi Chastain ripped off her shirt upon scoring the game-winning penalty kick. When her teammates, who would go on to become household names, rushed the field. When 90,000 fans screamed in unison, their voices a symphony of relief, joy, and pride—perfectly packaged in raspy voices and heat-stricken mania.
I walked away from that match with a passion I couldn’t explain in words. From that moment on, soccer became my sport. I wanted abs like Brandi and the tenacity of Michelle Akers. Soccer brought this shy girl out of her shell, took me to college, and stays with me today as a fan and co-rec player.
I tell you all of this because I want you to understand how crazy it is for me to say that yesterday’s World Cup final meant more to me.
It could be because it felt like the U.S. had so much to prove—to themselves, their critics, and the fans who watched them get so close four years ago. Perhaps it was just because I was older and could absorb the gravity of the moment more deeply. Or maybe it was the fact that it felt like the entire country was behind this team in a way I’d never felt before.
From the moment my family walked into BC Place, about 90 minutes before kickoff, we were swarmed by American flags and little girls with Alex Morgan jerseys and painted faces. A sea of red, white, and blue swallowed me. Fans in full bodysuit leggings rushed past. Patriotic tutus leapt by. My 8-year-old niece and 5-year-old nephew fit right in. They spent the last two days driving around Seattle with my brother searching for a U.S. shirt to wear.
Like me, they needed this day to be perfect.
As we walked toward our seats, a group of American Outlaws marched past us. Boom. The mallet connected with a giant drum. "USA!" the crowd chanted. Boom. "USA!" My niece began to clap and cheer along with the group, her lips pulling up into a giant smile.
We wove through foot traffic and got to our section just before the U.S. began to warm up. First, the three U.S. goalies ran out. Hope Solo, Ashlyn Harris, and Alyssa Naeher jogged back and forth across the width of the field. When they hit one sideline, the crowd in front of them would screech in joy. They’d run back across the field and would get another wave of screams. It was a rollercoaster of cheers that only let up when the rest of the U.S. team emerged from the tunnel.
Then, the screams escaped like a thunderbolt.
"I see Megan Jalapeño!" my niece exclaimed, using the nickname her and her brother gave Megan Rapinoe after seeing her sizzling moves with the Seattle Reign.
We watched the warm-ups in eager anticipation as fans around us trickled in. We were two sections away from the Outlaws, who were perched behind the goal the U.S. would be attacking in the first half. Jerseys branded with names like Sydney Leroux, Kelley O’Hara, Brandi Chastain, Landon Donovan, and more filled the section. Large cutouts of Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press bounced around as the U.S. supporters jumped up and down, waving scarves and leading chants.
As my legs shook in anticipation, "USA! USA! USA!" arose in one section, then spread and echoed throughout the stadium. The excitement, the unity … it hit me right in the heart and sent chills down my arms.
By the time the game finally kicked off, I was, frankly, overwhelmed by American pride. As I looked around the stadium, I thought about how big this moment was. For women. For the sport. And I was proud of the people there supporting it with me.
I was also extremely nervous. Japan was a dangerous team.
As you likely know by now, the game started with a bang. The U.S. put the pressure on Japan early, and in the third minute earned a corner kick. Megan Rapinoe lined up to take it. The crowd rose in unison to ensure they didn’t miss a moment. My friend lifted my niece up so she could take in the action.
Rapinoe sent the ball on the ground into the box, and a rushing Carli Lloyd was there to bury it with authority. Our arms lifted to the sky on instinct. The crowd went wild. Ballistic. There’s probably not a word to properly describe it. All around us, people turned to one another for confirmation that what we saw really happened.
A circle of high fives unleashed throughout the stands, and just two minutes later, it happened again.
Tobin Heath earned a free kick near the corner, the same corner that led to the first U.S. goal. Again, my friend lifted my niece up so she could see over the fans and flags in front of her. Julie Johnston flicked Lauren Holiday’s kick behind her, and there was Carli Lloyd. Again. The ball bounced over the goal line and the screams were even louder. The high fives even stronger.
Holiday’s volley 10 minutes later brought a mix of elation and confusion. What happened to the disciplined Japanese side? Geez, the U.S. sure are dominating!
Then, Carli Lloyd recovered the ball at half in the 16th minute. Nobody in the stands was ready for what came next. She saw that keeper Ayumi Kaihori was far off her line and unleashed a 50-yard blast. The crowd rose as the ball rose. We stood on the tips of our feet, willing the ball into the net. We collectively inhaled when Kaihori hurled her body backwards, trying to push the shot away.
She got a hand on it, and the ball brushed off the post. But the momentum was too strong, Carli Lloyd’s will too strong, and the stadium erupted as the shot slid across the line. The U.S. went up 4-0, and Lloyd earned the quickest hat-trick in World Cup history.
Japan pressured the U.S. defense throughout the second half, but the damage was already done. The lead was too large. The U.S. had finally earned the third star on their crest, the one that had eluded them for 16 years.
What made this win so special was that the players wrote their own story.
Going into this World Cup, the media focused on the historical 1999 championship run, Abby Wambach’s opportunity to make history, Alex Morgan’s injury, or Hope Solo’s personal troubles.
Aside from those who had followed this team for years, none predicted the impact that Morgan Brian and Julie Johnston—America’s youngest players—would have on the team. Or that, despite having an arsenal of attacking talent, America’s defense would be what propelled them to the final. Or that Carli Lloyd would be the top goal-scorer for the U.S. side.
Every four years, 23 women get the opportunity to pursue their dream and represent their country in the World Cup. This year, 23 American women wrote their own history. And they had a country ready to carry them on their backs.
When the final whistle blew, USA chants once again escaped from the crowd, and I finally took the time to breathe and soak it all in. We did it. This was real. It really happened. And I was there with my friends and family to witness it. I was able to share my passion, this beautiful game, with my niece and nephew.
We did it.
Another interesting thing happened as I was reveling in the U.S. victory. When the cheers began to settle, the stadium announcer asked the crowd to welcome FIFA executives onto the field to begin the trophy presentation. Instead of cheering them on, the crowd greeted them with boos. Sepp Blatter was nowhere to be found. Neither was CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb. But they could probably feel the anger wherever they were hiding.
Then the players—not the FIFA representatives—had their moment. As the presentation began, few had left the stadium. The bars remained packed. Ratings confirm that few walked away from their TV sets as well.
We booed, and then we celebrated, danced, and cried with the team.
And isn’t that just a perfect representation of this country. We are Americans. We are loud. Brash. Passionate. And dammit, we love this team.