Soccer

Megan Rapinoe, Rose Lavelle lead USWNT to historic Women's World Cup win

Soccer

The United States Women's National Team wanted the pressure. They welcomed it. In France, they thrived on it.

Seeking to win back-to-back Women's World Cup titles for the first time in their country's history, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and the most dominant soccer force on the planet asked for the pressure of playing host nation France in the quarterfinal. Rapinoe specifically hoped it would be a "s--show." Facing the team with the best shot to knock them off, Rapinoe buried two goals to lead the USWNT past France and into the semifinals. 

After a 2-1 win over England, only the underdog Netherlands squad stood between soccer's Goliath and destiny. 

Once again, all the pressure was on the U.S. on Sunday in Lyon. Once again, they thrived as only those who etch themselves into the annals of history can.

The first half belonged to Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal who made four fantastic saves in the first half to keep the game scoreless. 

But with the upstart Dutch feeling confident about knocking off the world's best -- and thoughts of Japan's 2011 upset creeping into consciousness -- the USWNT didn't bend, buckle or flinch. 

They flexed.

In the 58th minute, Morgan went down in the box after being contacted by Stefanie van der Gragt, who's cleat struck Morgan up near her shoulder. While the U.S. initially was given a corner kick, the referee elected to review the play and awarded the USWNT a penalty kick.

Rapinoe stepped up to the dot and calmly broke van Veenendaal wall, scoring her sixth goal of the tournament and 50th career goal for her country.

 

Holding a 1-0 lead, the USWNT could have looked to hold onto their narrow advantage and leave Lyon with a 1-0 win. Instead, America's heroes smelt blood and went for the kill.

In the 69th minute, with the Dutch pressing up to find an equalizer, the U.S. went on the counter and struck the death blow to the Netherlands.

Rose Lavelle raced down the middle of the Dutch defense, took a quality touch to set up her favored left foot and put it past van Veenendaal with a brilliant strike into the bottom corner.

As the ball found the back of the net, Lavelle let out a primal scream. Her teammates swarmed her, sensing history was within their grasp.

USWNT 2, Netherland 0.

Seven games, seven wins. The party was on.

Rapinoe took home the Golden Boot as the tournament's top scorer and the Golden Ball as its best player. Morgan took home the Silver Boot.

More importantly, the USWNT repeated for the first time in history and became just the second team to retain the trophy.

"We're crazy, that's what makes us special," Rapinoe told FOX after the win. "We have no quit in us, we're so tight and we'll do anything to win.

"It's unbelievable just to know all of the people in our group that put in so much work: the players, our friends and family are here, it's surreal. I don't know how to feel right now, it's ridiculous."

[RELATED: Rapinoe slams FIFA over gender pay gap, scheduling]

The USWNT was crazy, yes. But what made Rapinoe, Morgan, Lavelle and Co. special was how they welcomed the pressure both and off the pitch.

They spoke out on a wealth of issues from the gender pay gap in soccer to the double standard when it comes to celebrations. They spoke eloquently and fiercely and then went out and dominated their opponents.

They injected themselves into the country's bloodstream because they were the embodiment of what so many of us want to be and want our country to represent.

They were brave and talented. Dominant and heroic. Triumphant but gracious.

They were unafraid of the big moment. They thrived under the bright lights. They had the highest expectations and they did the unimaginable by exceeding them.

They are champions.

They are -- as Rapinoe called herself -- "uniquely American."