This was, in effect, Lloyd’s moment to say to U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage, “How the heck did you bench me – ever?” But in the celebration, there was none of that.
“Didn’t pout about it,” Wambach said of Lloyd’s reaction two weeks ago. “Was a great teammate. Was a professional.”
There were nervous moments to come, because in the 63rd minute, Ogimi pulled Japan within 2-1. And with roughly seven minutes remaining, Japan stripped Rampone of the ball just outside the U.S. penalty area. Mana Iwabuchi bore in on Solo, solo herself.
“I knew I had to make the save,” Solo said. “That was my only thought.”
She could go about it, though, because she knew Sauerbrunn, a reserve defender, would have Japan’s other offensive options marked behind her. Solo and Sauerbrunn had talked about such a moment, and the goalkeeper had faith that the defender would do her job.
“That’s this team,” Solo said. Iwabuchi fired. Solo lunged. And the ball deflected away.
“At that point,” Wambach said, “I just kept pounding my chest saying, ‘Guys, this is only about heart!’ ”
When the referee finally, mercifully, blew the last whistle, the U.S. team split into two separate, bouncing huddles. Several Japanese players fell immediately to the turf, and their distress lasted throughout the American celebration. By the time the United States came together as one group – Megan Rapinoe jumping on one back, then another, then another – the Japanese gathered in an orderly circle, sharing their misery by themselves. And with that, Queen’s “We Are the Champions” rang through Wembley as if Freddie Mercury was belting it out live.
The respect that these two teams had for each other was apparent in the days leading up to the rematch, and when Japan formed a straight line to face the crowd – even as Iwabuchi still buried her face in her shirt, trying to dry the tears – the crowd applauded enthusiastically.
But when the flags were raised, and the “Star-Spangled Banner” played, each and every U.S. player sang it out. They sang it together, because at the end of a tumultuous year and a long Olympic tournament, it’s the only way they knew how.