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Women’s World Cup returns to USA

It was no shock that the United States national team won its third Women’s World Cup on Sunday at BC Place.

But jumping ahead in the third minute? Doubling that lead in the fifth? Doubling that lead again in the 16th minute? And then walking away with a 5-2 win over defending champion Japan?

Yes, those were surprises even for this confident USA team and its equally confident coach.

“I just knew that the players could deliver,” coach Jill Ellis said. “… These players were brought up for big moments. … That’s how their DNA is, and that’s how they’re engineered. So for me: Yeah. Did I envision the win? Yes. Yeah, I let myself go there. I envisioned myself lifting the trophy. Five (goals) is kind of a dream come true.”

Driving the dream was Carli Lloyd, who scored three goals, including the first two. She was honored as player of the match and player of the tournament after scoring six goals in seven matches during the monthlong event, including in every U.S. game in the knockout phase.

For all that, she made a point of sharing the glory.

“I think what Jill did and the coaching staff from start to finish earned us this World Cup,” Lloyd said. “And to the team: just a fantastic performance. You could pick out multiple players at each game (who) got the job done. The defense was strong as usual. Just collectively we got it done. We knew it was going to take all 22 players, and I’m super proud of every single person on this team.”

Lloyd gave the United States a 1-0 lead in the third minute, running on to a low cross from Meagan Rapinoe — the Seattle Reign FC midfielder who was celebrating her birthday.

Lloyd made it 2-0 two minutes later, completing the quickest two goals in Women’s World Cup history.

And that already seemed like it might be enough to return the Cup across the border. Japan hadn’t scored more than two goals in any match of this World Cup.

“Pinch me; wake me up,” Ellis said of her reaction. “We talked about trying to start fast, and that’s been one of our mantras: ‘Start fast, finish strong.’ They came out of the gate.”

Within another 10 minutes or so, two more goals would be conjured.

The third came from Lauren Holiday in the 15th minute.

A minute later Lloyd completed her hat trick with the most memorable goal of all. Technically precise Japan lost possession around the halfway circle. Lloyd saw goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori off her line, and launched a 50-yard shot on goal. Kaihori backed up desperately and managed to get a hand to it, but the ball continued into the net.

“I’ve dreamed of scoring on a shot like that,” Lloyd said. “I did it once when I was a little bit younger with the national team in a training environment. But very rarely do you just wind up and hit it. You’re feeling good mentally, physically, those plays are just instincts.”

After that, it was Japan’s turn to rally. Their first goal came when Yuki Ogimi took a pass in front of the goal, used her body to shield the ball from her defender, then turned and scored. They cut the USA lead to 4-2 early in the second half on an own goal by USA defender Julie Johnston.

That caused a brief murmur from the sellout crowd of 53,341 — which was overwhelmingly pro-USA. But only briefly, as the United States scored again two minutes later with Tobin Heath getting what would prove to be the final goal of what was the highest-scoring Women’s World Cup final.

“At the beginning we didn’t play well,” Japan coach Norio Sasaki said. “But until the end of the game we worked hard.”

Despite the work, there was no catching up against a USA defense that came into this match with a 513-minute shutout streak. That grew to 540 minutes before Japan broke through.

After the game, Hope Solo was award the Golden Gloves as the tournament’s top goalkeeper.

The United States’ previous World Cups came in 1991 and 1999.

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