Sounders FC

USA feels at home for Women’s World Cup final in Vancouver, B.C.

Cars with U.S. flags and decorated with pro-USA messages waited in lines Saturday at the Peace Arch border crossing.

Many were bound for Vancouver, where most hotel rooms already had been gobbled up.

At a FIFA public event near BC Place, soccer fans gathered while showing familiar colors and crests from clubs of the Northwest: the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer, and the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League.

The USA last won the Women’s World Cup in 1999 while enjoying the home-field advantage of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. At 4 p.m. Sunday, the Red, White and Blue will try to win its third World Cup with something like a neighbor’s-field advantage.

“Even though we’re in Canada, these matches have been feeling like we’re at home,” said Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. national team and Seattle Reign FC. “We have been selling out stadiums and they’re packed with mostly U.S. fans. I can’t imagine it being too much different if we were actually in America. We’re getting recognized all over Canada, and I expect another great U.S. crowd on Sunday.”

That seems highly likely, especially with the opponent coming from a very wide ocean away: defending champion Japan.

Japan eliminated the United States on penalty kicks in the 2011 final. That result has been in the heads of the USA players — certainly over the past few days, and likely over the last four years.

“We definitely have 2011 in the back of our minds,” said USA defender Christie Rampone. “With that said, this is the third time we’ll meet Japan in a final, which is pretty amazing for both federations.”

The year after the Japanese took their first World Cup, the United States got some measure of revenge by defeating them in the gold-medal game of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Now the two sides will meet again in a rubber match, one that will relegate the past to the past, at least for 90 minutes.

“Honestly, the only motivation I have is to try to help this team win a World Cup,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “I wasn’t around in 2011 as part of the staff. I’ve said this a lot: I don’t have a rearview mirror in my life; I always look forward. I try and be about tomorrow. So it’s not what happened before for me, it’s the opportunity to have this amazing group of women potentially win a world championship.”

Most observers assume it may not take many goals decide things. Led by Seattle Reign and former University of Washington goalkeeper Hope Solo, the United States comes into the match with a 513-minute shutout streak — 37 minutes short of Germany’s 2007 tournament record. Meanwhile, Japan has won every match in this World Cup by a single goal.

“We have so much respect for Japan and the way that they play the game,” U.S. midfielder Lauren Holiday said. “ It’s a good game every time we play them, ... and I think it’s going to be a very exciting final.”

The USA entered the tournament as the No. 2 team in the world, and advanced to the final with a 2-0 win over No. 1 Germany last week. Meanwhile, No. 4 Japan defeated England in its semifinal, their ticket punched by a Lionesses own goal in stoppage time.

“I think playing against one of the best teams in the world is fun,” said USA defender Ali Krieger. “It’s a challenge, and it’s why we’re here. Four years ago, we were in the final with them as well. … It just shows that both of our programs are really strong and really confident and that makes it more exciting. You train your entire life for this moment and it’s finally here.”