By Nancy Armour |
When the decade began, the U.S. women were the No. 1 soccer team in the world. Halfway through, the Americans were still No. 1, having just won the World Cup for a third time.
Now, as the decade comes to a close, the U.S. is, yes, you guessed it, No. 1. And World Cup champions again.
Those who criticized the Americans during the World Cup, calling them arrogant or suggesting they tone down their celebrations, got it all wrong. When it comes to the best team of the 2010s, like everywhere else, the U.S. women have no competition.
There were other teams that won more titles since 2010 – that’s you, Alabama and Connecticut. Other teams that might be equally intimidating or inspire similar feelings of dread – cough, New England Patriots, cough.
But no other team came close to the U.S. women’s sustained success over the past decade. In other words, they have earned every inch of their badassness – and then some.
“We’re a confident team,” longtime defender Becky Sauerbrunn said during the World Cup. “We know how hard we work, day in and day out. We know what we’ve sacrificed for years.
“People see that as arrogance, we see it as preparation. And we believe in one another. That’s all we need.”
Over the past 10 years, the U.S. women won two consecutive World Cups (2019, 2015) and finished runner-up in the other (2011). They won the Olympic gold medal in 2012.
But the most telling stat of their dominance is 10. As in, the number of months over these past 10 years that they weren’t ranked No. 1.
That’s right. Out of the 120 months of this decade, the Americans have been the top-ranked team in the world for all but 10 of them. Odds are it wouldn’t even be that many if not for FIFA going roughly three months between rankings.
Having been No. 1 for more than six years, the U.S. women dropped to No. 2 in December 2014, behind Germany. They stayed there in the next rankings, in March 2015, but were back at No. 1 in July 2015, after winning their first World Cup title since 1999.
They stayed at No. 1 until March 2017, when they again fell behind Germany. But they were back on top when the next rankings were released, in June 2017, and haven’t budged since.
Think about that. During the decade, the Americans have switched coaches three times and had dozens of world-class players come and go, including all-time international scoring leader Abby Wambach and Hope Solo, perhaps the best goalkeeper ever to play the game.
Yet they kept right on winning.
Of the 219 games they played this decade, the U.S. women won 175 of them. They had three seasons in which they didn’t lose a single game.
Even their low point, their worst showing ever at a major international tournament, was a loss in the quarterfinals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. On penalty kicks.
“The expectation is you will do everything you can to win,” said Kate Markgraf, a starter on the U.S. team that won the 1999 World Cup and now the general manager of the women’s national team. “That mentality, you walk into (it). So if you don’t have it yet, you learn it.”
The Americans have maintained their status despite the women’s game being better than ever.
As the most recent World Cup showed, there are no longer only three or four dominant teams. Countries all over, in Europe in particular, are pumping money and resources into the women’s game, and the impact is already being felt.
Germany, the reigning Olympic champion, was knocked out in France by the Netherlands, which went on to reach the final in only its second World Cup appearance. The domestic leagues in France, England and Spain are thriving.
But the U.S. women are still the team setting the standard.
“They are wired for this, they’re built for this,” just retired coach Jill Ellis said in France. “I think some teams will visit pressure, but I think we live there a lot. And I think that’s part of the pride in the history of this program.”
As dominant as the U.S. women have been this decade, their influence off the field has been just as significant.
They have been standard bearers in the fight for equal pay, suing their own federation. They have forced America to examine our attitudes toward women, female athletes in particular. Megan Rapinoe emerged from the World Cup as an international icon, refusing to back down from her pleas for equality and inclusiveness even after President Donald Trump directed his Twitter rage at her.
“It impacts everyone, not just the girls. And not just people who can relate and who are similar,” Markgraf said. “Everybody. Now you have boys looking up to girls, you have boys wearing Rapinoe jerseys.
“The same thing happened in ’99,” she added, “but this feels like a different tipping point to me than in ’99.”
When history revisits this decade, it will be clear that no team had the success or the impact of the U.S. women. By any measure, they were the best team of the 2010s.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.