The contrasts between Women’s World Cup finalists the United States and Japan are glaring. On one side you have a perennial world power in the still-young international competition — a two-time champion looking to regain its place atop the sport. On the other, an upstart soccer nation that no one expected to be in Sunday’s tournament final.
Call it parity, call it growth, call it what you will. But on either side of the Pacific Ocean, fans of women’s soccer have reason to believe their squad could be a team of destiny.
There are compelling storylines for both sides as well. The Americans are trying to win their first Cup since the legendary 1999 team stormed to the forefront of the sports world, sparking massive growth in soccer at the youth level. Abby Wambach and company want to experience that joy for themselves, and forge their own identity as a championship team.
For Japan, a victory would not only solidify its young team’s place as a new international force in women’s soccer, it would also be the first major sports victory since the nation was ravaged by natural disaster. Sport can bring a nation together and, if only for a moment, help heal fresh wounds. This Japanese team — which knocked off two-time champions and tournament favorites Germany — has an incredible opportunity to do both.
Christie Rampone, the last player left on the U.S. roster who competed on the famed 1999 championship team sees the emergence of a non-traditional power like Japan as a boon for the sport.
“The growth of soccer has been amazing. It’s just amazing to see Japan in the final and the growth of soccer and support behind it. All these teams putting more effort and time and training. ... All these games are tight. You can see the pressure’s out there.”
Fortunately for the Americans, they’ve never shied away from pressure .
Apparently they’re also quite musical. First Megan Rapinoe belted out the Boss after scoring against Colombia, then her coach, Pia Sundhage displayed her positivity through song in a press conference, and now fans are getting into the act. Check out “The Megan Rapinoe Song.”
More Women’s World Cup coverage:
Live Q &A transcript: Former women’s national team player Carin Gabarra discusses Sunday’s final with readers
Soccer Insider: U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage is in-tune