The patrons at Summers Restaurant in Arlington hadn’t even settled. They had barely sipped their beers, and they had yet to decide on food. They were pacing themselves to watch at least a 90-minute Women’s World Cup final.
After 16 exhilarating minutes, however, the game was over.
After a fourth “U-S-A!” celebratory chant in that time span, the patrons were delightfully stunned. And out of breath.
“I’m exhausted,” one fan said, laughing.
The rest of the match became an exhibition to determine just how impressive the United States wanted to be. It settled for one of the most dominant title-game performances in sports history: an early onslaught, a midgame cruise and a strong finish in a 5-2 throttling of rival Japan.
For the first time in 16 years, the U.S. women’s national team captured the World Cup, defeating its own vulnerability along the way. There was no way to see this coming, especially after the Americans began this tournament in lackluster form.
The reasons to doubt kept multiplying. Germany was supposedly the world’s best team. Abby Wambach couldn’t carry the U.S. squad anymore. Hope Solo had disturbing off-field issues. Coach Jill Ellis was too green. And what about the pressure mounting after it failed to win the past three World Cups, including a devastating loss to Japan in the 2011 final?
The U.S. women, who won the first Women’s World Cup in 1991 and lifted the sport to new heights with their second title eight years later, had never seemed this vulnerable. Then on Sunday, in less than the time it takes for a power nap, they looked their most overpowering at BC Place in Vancouver.
And this old Arlington soccer bar, which has been showing matches from around the world for 31 years, experienced another significant moment. This World Cup didn’t match the drama of 1999, when the U.S. and China fought until Brandi Chastain’s penalty kick and jersey-removing glee at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
That U.S. team, playing on its home soil and featuring Mia Hamm in her prime, had to win to lift the entire sport. This team had to win to prove it has maintained international supremacy.
At Summers, they celebrated the evolution of women’s soccer. Jorge Parrado was a customer during the World Cup 16 years ago. Now Parrado, 44, works at the restaurant and assists with social-media promotion.
While this title game had its drama end early, Parrado was still able to recognize the meaning.
“It was much more intense 16 years ago,” he said. “The expectation was there. There was no excuse. They had to win it. This was more determination to walk in and take back what they lost four years ago — which they did in 15 minutes. This team didn’t really play that well at the beginning of the World Cup. In 1999, they were a machine. Nothing could really stop them. But look at how far this team came.”
Parrado looks at how far women’s soccer has come in general. He appreciates the progress.
“The fan base has evolved, from my perspective,” Parrado said. “In 1999, you had more kids around, and now those kids are young adults. I see more men and women coming here to watch the matches, a more diverse crowd. Men have, compared to back then, a greater respect for the female athlete, the female soccer player.
“The men are actually paying attention and reading the game instead of coming in because, wow, she was in Sports Illustrated. They’re not just here because their girlfriends asked them to come. It’s an evolution.”
Four hours before the final, three preteen boys walked together on Lee Highway in Arlington, boasting their national pride. One boy had a soccer ball tucked under his arm. They wore socks with stripes on their left feet and with stars on their right feet.
They were ready to root for the women, who represented the red, white, blue (and yellowish green and black). They weren’t disappointed.
The Americans won their third Women’s World Cup, the most of any nation. Carli Lloyd completed the tournament of her life by becoming the first U.S. player to score in four straight World Cup matches. But that stat might get lost in the celebration. This game will be remembered for the three goals Lloyd scored in the first 16 minutes. She punctuated her instant hat trick with an absurd goal from near midfield that resembled a basketball player attempting a heat check.
Thing is, most heat checks don’t go in.
And for her next trick, Lloyd will boot disgraced FIFA President Sepp Blatter into oblivion.
The World Cup is back in the United States, and soccer legend Abby Wambach won the only major event that has eluded her. Before the match, she expressed to reporters how badly she wanted this World Cup, saying that if the United States won, “I might just give you all a kiss on the mouth. Don’t tell my wife, though.”
Surely, after the Americans erased 16 years of disappointment in 16 minutes of dominance, Wambach will be allowed as many victory smooches as she desires.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.