For about an hour, Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal was the star of Sunday’s Women’s World Cup Final, recording several spectacular diving saves to keep the hard-charging Americans scoreless.
Then, Megan Rapinoe stepped up for a penalty kick — and netted the tiebreaker, her 50th international goal. A second goal by Rose Lavelle in the 69th minute had U.S. fans in Baltimore and around the world cheering, en route to the team’s record fourth World Cup championship.
Abi Muzaale and more than a hundred other fans at the Five and Dime Ale House in Hampden threw their hands in the air, clapped, hooted and hollered as time expired and the 2-0 victory became official. The 39-year-old from Charles Village rattled off the other difficult opponents the team had beaten to reach the final: Sweden, Spain, France and England.
“They earned this Cup,” he said.
The team also earned — once again — adoration from U.S. sports fans and a new tool in their battle to highlight gender pay gaps in their sport and in the greater workplace.
Viewership has risen globally during this year’s World Cup, which featured consecutive, dominant on-field performances by the U.S. squad and a high-profile spat between Rapinoe and President Donald Trump, after the star said she would not visit the White House if invited. Nearly 7 million U.S. viewers tuned into the team’s 2-1 semifinal victory over England, making it the most watched women’s soccer event since their 2015 finals victory. The president congratulated the team Sunday in a tweet, without mentioning Rapinoe by name, after the victory.
The victory also highlighted the significant pay disparity that remains between women’s and men’s soccer. While FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, has pledged to double the prize money to $60 million for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the men’s purse is expected to grow to $440 million for 2022, which Rapinoe and others have criticized as unfair. She and other members of the 2015 championship team are suing the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination over salaries averaging an estimated 38 percent less than their male counterparts, despite their games generating more revenue for the federation — and the women winning more.
According to a report in the U.K. Guardian newspaper, the U.S. Women's National Team will earn about $250,000 each for winning the World Cup, including all bonuses and roster incentives. By contrast, the U.S. Men's National Team would earn about $1.1 million in the unlikely event they win next year’s men’s World Cup.
Fans in France could be heard chanting “Equal Pay! Equal Pay!” after the win.
Rapinoe won both the Golden Boot as the tournament's top scorer and the Golden Ball as the best player.
“Everyone needs a hero,” Muzaale said. “The team needs a hero, the fans need a hero. She takes on the role.”
Michelle DiBartolo and Stephanie Durakis, who watched from seats at the bar, couldn’t get over how the game drew big and boisterous crowds — at a taproom in Baltimore and the stadium in Lyon, France, which hosted the tournament.
“The fact that women’s soccer is getting so much recognition is a huge step forward,” said Durakis, 28. “It’s a drastic difference from when we were growing up.”
“There’s definitely a ways to go,” DiBartolo said.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis’ team is full of “inspirational women who come out there and represent strength and integrity,” said DiBartolo, 29.
Their stellar pacing, passing and communication, in particular, separated them from other teams, she said. Their unbridled confidence, which drew criticism as “arrogance” from some in Europe, “is backed up by so much hard work,” DiBartolo said.
“They’re just amazingly talented,” she said. “They’re great role models.”
Justin Hahn’s two brothers made the trip to France for the game, so he and his wife, Amy, and their friend Lindsay Denmark spent the game looking for a pair of Uncle Sam hats in the second row behind the goal, in the American fan section.
“They’re both bigger fans than me, obviously,” said Hahn, of Laurel. “But we came out to watch it.”
Jamie Massey wore a navy blue Rapinoe scarf to the Five and Dime despite the post-Fourth-of-July heat.
The 42-year-old, who lives in Hamilton, said she still cherishes the memory of Brandi Chastain kicking the winning penalty shot of the 1999 World Cup against China and tearing off her jersey in celebration.
Twenty years later, Rapinoe, Lavelle, Alex Morgan and company have given fans of U.S. women’s soccer another lasting memory: a fourth World Cup.
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“They're just a great team,” Massey said.