It took only 16 minutes for Carli Lloyd to become the latest American sports hero with her hat trick in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final against Japan on Sunday.
It was a moment 16 years in the making, since the United States hadn’t won the World Cup since 1999.
Young girls nationwide now have a new set of role models.
While younger players such as Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Morgan Brian grew up wanting to be like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain after that thrilling win in front of a packed Rose Bowl in 1999, a whole new generation of young soccer players will remember the efforts of Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath over the past several weeks in Canada.
It seems like soccer’s popularity always peaks in the U.S. right around the time of the men’s and women’s World Cups. After the men’s team made it to the knockout stage in 2014 and the women claimed their record third title this year, the sport’s growth should be accelerated quite a bit in the years to come.
Who’s our next Abby Wambach, Christie Rampone or Shannon Boxx, who have combined to make 748 appearances for the national team and wrapped up their illustrious World Cup careers on the pitch at B.C. Place in Vancouver on Sunday?
Who’s the next Clint Dempsey, Kyle Beckerman or Tim Howard who was inspired by the men’s team in 2014?
Sports editor Tavin Stucki and I were just discussing it Wednesday afternoon. It took 16 years for the women’s team to regain the World Cup. It takes about that long for a soccer player to develop.
Rapinoe was barely 14 when the 1999 team beat China in the final. Morgan had just turned 10. Leroux was 9, far from old enough to know whether she’d end up playing for Canada or the United States.
And Brian? She was 6, having just finished kindergarten and likely was just learning how to play the game on an AYSO team somewhere in Georgia, no doubt partially because of the fervor generated by Chastain’s penalty kick against the Chinese.
Who will the next great American sports hero be? Thanks to the inspiration provided by our men’s and women’s teams at recent World Cups, he or she might just be playing on a soccer pitch near you.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. His soccer career ended abruptly when he discovered there was more to the game than orange slices at halftime, and fruit roll-ups and Capri Sun afterward. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.