Sometimes, the sweetest victories are born out of the most bitter of defeats.
On Thursday afternoon, American soccer fans saw just that phenomenon in action as a pair of Carli Lloyd goals in the eighth and 54th minutes were enough to exact revenge on Japan, the last team to beat the soccer team representing the stars and stripes. Three hundred eighty-nine days earlier, Japan took home the World Cup in a dramatic penalty-kick ending in Germany.
Since that loss, the London Games had been looked to as a road to redemption started on that July afternoon in Frankfurt. In fact much of the run-up to Thursday’s match seemed eerily similar to last summer’s Women’s World Cup.
A successful run through their group here, a few Abby Wambach goals there, and yes, even an emotional and late goal in there, too. As Alex Morgan’s header soared past Canada’s Erin McLeod, it felt as if it was the same story as last summer, but certainly a different chapter in the team’s tale altogether.
But, this time the overall ending was going to be different. The competitors in the final may have been the same, but the end result just felt like it was going to be different.
“They snatched our dream last summer,” Megan Rapinoe told reporters after Thursday’s 2-1 gold medal clincher. “And this kind of feels like the nightmare turned back around.”
In recent years, the Olympics have proven to be a venue for redemption for American sides coming off of disappointing losses. Just four years ago, a stacked men’s basketball team filled with top-tier NBA talent went on a similarly blistering run for the gold after a lackluster performance leading to a bronze medal in 2004’s Athens Olympics.
Easily made comparisons aside, Thursday’s gold medal win just felt different. There was no fanfare of a dramatic last second goal, or even the USWNT seemingly pouring it on in a show of how the team had improved since Frankfurt.
No, it was all thanks to the foot of a player relegated to the bench early on in the Olympic tournament that keyed the Americans to victory. Lloyd’s contribution came after an injury to Shannon Boxx restored the New Jersey native into the lineup.
With such a star-studded team to start the tournament, Lloyd’s inclusion in the starting lineup was certainly a question worth asking for coach Pia Sundhage. But after Thursday, it was Lloyd who ultimately got the last laugh in the matter.
“She proved that I was wrong before the Olympics,” Sundhage said of Lloyd. “I am really happy that she is more clever than I am,” she added.
But as we’ve seen in sports time and time again, the biggest players relish and save their best work for the biggest moments. On Thursday USA’s goalkeeper Hope Solo held that title.
For much of the afternoon, Solo made saves with the edges of her fingertips and sprawled out to make others to keep the reigning World Cup Champions off of the score sheet. Japan had their chances to break through, however. Plenty of them, but thanks to posts and Solo’s heroics, they simply didn’t find the back of the net.
The only blemish on the day was a goal from Yuki Ogimi in the 63rd minute amid a frantic defensive lapse in an otherwise sterling 2-1 game.
When it was over, there were smiles, tears, and even an American team coach rocking out to Bruce Springsteen’s classic Born in the USA. Even if she’s from Sweden.
On Thursday, American women’s soccer brought home some serious hardware. But back home, their victory kickstarted the dreams of players who will one day be the next Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, or Hope Solo.
The depth and talent on this team was inspired by an earlier generation of players named Mia, Kristine, Michelle, and Briana. The program’s legacy is one of continuing to produce champions and seemingly reload year after year.
Who knows? Maybe in 2020 or 2024, we’ll see an American team filled with players who grew up fueled by the 2012 squad’s victory in London.
Will that be redemption come full circle? Nope, just a soccer dream realized.
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