The headline in today’s Bild online says it all: US-Girls zerstören unseren WM-Traum. In a contest between the top two teams in the world last night, the United States came out on top 2-0 in a surprisingly dominant performance, outlasting a loaded German side in the most anticipated match of the tournament. Germany was heavily favored going into the game, despite a nailbiter against France last weekend. But the USWNT made good on the promise they brought into the tournament to peak at the right time and pulled off the win in front of the rabidly pro-USA crowd in Montreal.
Germany and the United States are the two heavyweights in the world of Women’s soccer, with three finals appearances each going into the game. But, as any casual observer would recognize, the Germans have a huge cultural advantage, a factor that, when combined with the superiority of their tactics and coaching, many predicted would ultimately outweigh the American athleticism and training advantage that had helped them to clean up so many sloppy performances in the past.
One of the main arguments for the future of American soccer has long been the supposed superiority of American athleticism. If Lebron James had decided to play soccer instead of basketball, the logic goes, America would be a quatrennial World Cup contender, instead of being stuck as the quarterfinal also-ran that it has been for the last 20 odd years on the men’s side. Ironically, this argument has held somewhat true for the women, with the USWNT using their legendary fitness to brutalize other sides at the ends of hard-fought matches.
The limits of this arguments, though, have also been on display of late, as the superiority of other countries’ tactical approaches have given the US women fits in games like their tie against the South Koreans in the last friendly before the tournament, and the importance of culture has also become apparent, as women from countries with legendary soccer heritages like Columbia and the Netherlands have started to make their mark.
The combination of tactics and culture in the 2015 German side was supposed to ring the death knell for the Americans in this tournament, and when Defender Julie Johnston dragged down Alexandra Popp in the 59th minute, leading to an Elfmeter from sure-shot Celia Sasic, it looked as though the predictions of German inevitability were coming to fruition. But then, as Hope Solo dove right, Sasic’s kick went wide left, granting the Americans a reprieve.
In the 69th minute, a questionable penalty against a hard-charging Alex Morgan gave Carli Lloyd a chance to justify the attack-focused tactics of the Americans, which she did, putting the goal past keeper Nadine Angerer to secure the lead and, after a top-up from Kelley O’Hara in the 84th minute with time running out and the Germans on their last legs, the win. Afterwards, the Germans were gracious in defeat, with Annika Krahn offering her congratulation on a “well-earned” victory.
In many ways, this match felt like a final, and, regardless of whether the USWNT leave this tournament with a record third World Cup or not, they will definitely need to take a lesson from this match. Putting Lebron James on the pitch wouldn’t have changed the outcome of this match; Carli Lloyd’s touch was far more valuable than pure athleticism.
The Germans, on the other hand, were dominated in their last two matches of the tournament after rampaging through the group stage, a fact that will surely lead to some soul-searching in the coming months. Their dream in 2015 is over, but despite this, Germany is in a lot of ways much better positioned for the new world of women’s soccer, one that is built much more of tactics and skill rather than the brutal individualism that has traditionally defined the American approach. Teamwork and unity of purpose are more important than ever. As German coach Silvia Neid said after the game, throughout the tournament, they won together, but in this game, they lost together. And that’s something that should make German fans optimistic moving forward.
For this expat straddling the Atlantic, it was of course a bit disappointing to see this match between the world’s finest go down in the semifinals, but the tournament that it capped has showcased the exciting new world that we’re entering, one in which historical minnows like Columbia and the Netherlands will be able to challenge powerhouses like Germany and the United States on an even pitch, forcing the best to get even better. And that’s something we should all applaud.