“The journey has been exciting, and unpredictable to a certain extent,” U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage said dryly.
Defender Christie Rampone was more explicit: “I want the drama to be over,” she said. “I want it to be exciting but not that exciting.”
It wasn’t — thanks to Lloyd. She came out of nowhere and practically knocked Wambach over when she saw Alex Morgan make a short cross 8 minutes 54 seconds into the first half. She sprinted in to cut off the pass with a head-banging goal.
“Flew by Abby, flew by everybody,” Lloyd said. “I was just determined to get the goal in.”
Most of the U.S. team thought it was Wambach who scored, but she pointed to Lloyd and they collapsed on her. It was a pure love-in.
For the rest of the game they were a screaming, hard-charging, ripping downfield mob. Even as time wound down they refused to hold the ball, still pushing. They didn’t know how to play conservatively.
Japan kept on coming, too, and that might have left Solo exposed. She was the team’s largest personality and most frequent magazine cover, and its biggest, baddest mouth. But she proved that she is 100 percent the real deal. She was a diving and deflecting demon, a one-woman highlight film and forever justified her outsized reputation. When Mana Iwabuchi took a direct shot from close range at the 82:33 mark, Solo went parallel. She batted it with both hands — and a legend was made.
Afterward they emerged from their showers with American flags wrapped around their shoulders like shawls and twined around their necks like scarfs, signaling a new sense of possession. The U.S. team now has won four gold medals in the past five Olympics — and the last two belong to this team, which has taken its place as one of the greats.
Said Wambach: “At the end of the day we wanted to make sure people were talking about us for what we were doing on the field.”
For Sally Jenkins’s previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.