This is it. Everything the US Women's national team has achieved and built since their devastating loss to Japan in the 2011 World Cup has been toward the singular, edifying goal of winning this match tonight in Vancouver. That it's a rematch against the Nadeshiko team that beat them in the last Cup is an added bit of dramatic flavor, but ultimately it doesn't matter whether the opponent is Japan, England, or Narnia, the aim is the same: to add to their crest the third star that has eluded and haunted the team since their last championship in 1999.
For much of the build-up to this Cup, that goal seemed more frustration than inspiration. Through a quick succession of three coaches and a seeming inability to quit their addiction to an older generation of players that looked ill-equipped to compete in the modern game, the team seemed to be regressing as the tournament approached. It was a slow slide that peaked with a dour pre-tournament loss to a young, rising French team and the loss of the world #1 ranking that the US had worn like a comfortable crown for seven years.
Even while winning the agreed-upon Group of Death, the doubts lingered. The team was given a scare by Australia and looked punchless against Sweden. But in every sport in every land the advice is the same: you can't be at peak performance all the time, so you have to peak at the right time. And in a dominating victory over world #1 Germany in the semifinal, the team and coach Jill Ellis had all the look and feeling of a rising wave, perfectly timed to crest and roar down into BC Place tonight.
For an in-depth preview of the game, check out our coverage here. Japan has plenty of weapons. Their team cohesion and ability to hold the ball under pressure could make US chances rare, mirroring what the US did to Germany. Goalkeeper Hope Solo will be called upon more than at any other time this tournament.
But in just a few weeks we have evolved from doubt to belief to confidence. This — finally — looks like a team worthy of the legacy of that crest — and the team capable of putting their own permanent mark on it.
How to Watch
This is your World Cup Final Gamethread. No Maybes.