Youth and experience blend in USA’s successful title defense

Photo credit: Smashdown Sports News via Flickr

(FIFA Women’s World Cup-By Erin Fish with USA) – After the match and after the celebrations, Julie Ertz was overcome by emotion. She fell to her knees, realising exactly what she and her team-mates had just accomplished and everything they had to go through to get to that point.

The USA are back-to-back FIFA Women’s World Cup™ champions, an incredible feat that few will ever accomplish in their lifetime.

But this squad was not the same as it was in 2015. In fact, only 12 of the players on this current squad were on the 2015 championship team.

USA defeated the Netherlands 2-0 on Sunday after a hard-fought battle between the two squads. The Americans eventually came out on top, propelled first by captain Megan Rapinoe’s buried penalty kick in the 61st minute. Rapinoe, 34, became the oldest goalscorer in the history of the Women’s World Cup final.

Rose Lavelle, the USA’s 24-year-old midfield dynamo, added a remarkable solo strike in the 69th minute to give her side a secure lead. Contributions to the scoresheet from a budding USA star and an established one summed up the dynamic of this squad perfectly.

Rapinoe said winning this World Cup is different and better for her as a more senior player and as one of the captains.

Photo credit: Smashdown Sports News via Flickr

“The cherry on top was little Rose [Lavelle] scoring today. It’s been a fantastic tournament for her,” Rapinoe said. “But everything, like [Ali Krieger] getting in and playing in a World Cup final after not being with the squad for two years, Christen Press’s celebration, Rose’s goal, Alyssa [Naeher’s] penalty save. It’s amazing, I don’t even have words.”

From day one the US have talked about the dynamic of this group and how it was great to have a mix of veteran players as well as youth. There is experience and there is also a sense of freshness that the new players bring, all while maintaining what they call the “USWNT culture” that has been passed down from generation to generation.

This culture is a winning mentality learned from the minute you step into youth camps. It is gritty and competitive and about pushing each other to be the best. The minute this team touched down in France, they were all business.

They were putting a fourth star on that crest, or the tournament would not be a success.

In between the two World Cups it was not always smooth sailing for this squad. In 2016, the team was knocked out of the Rio Olympics at the quarter-final stage by Sweden, and that called for a change to take place. Coach Jill Ellis began to tactically restructure the team, and the squad had to find themselves again.

Three years later, they have done it. Ertz sat there on her knees in the centre of the stadium in Lyon and just took it all in.

FIFA Women’s World Cup

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