When champions are also leaders, victory is even sweeter.
In a thrilling, record-breaking game, the United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT) won its third FIFA Women’s World Cup (WWC) championship after defeating Japan 5-2 in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday, July 5. But beyond the cheering fans and international accolades lies a team of women that have exhibited remarkable perseverance, strength, and leadership both on the field and off. Here are six important leadership lessons from the USWNT.
It was the first time in 16 years that the team brought home women’s soccer’s biggest prize–which came with a dose of vindication, since the U.S. team lost to Japan in the 2011 WWC championship on penalty kicks. The U.S. defeated Japan when they faced off against them the following year in the Olympics, but it wasn’t until this WWC championship that they were able to come back from their disappointing loss.
Records were shattered by the USWNT during this tournament. This championship makes the USWNT the first team in history to win three WWC championships. The game was also the highest-scoring WWC final, and the U.S. scored the four fastest goals in WWC history.
In a June 2015 New York Times profile, former USWNT coach Pia Sundhage called midfielder Carli Lloyd “challenging to coach.” Lloyd emerged as a hero during this tournament, scoring six goals in the tournament, including the single, game-winning goal against China, moving the U.S. along to the semifinals, as well as one goal in the semifinal game shut-out, and an amazing hat trick in the final.
Lloyd was awarded the Golden Ball trophy, naming her the most outstanding player in the tournament. About 12 years ago, Lloyd was cut from the national U-21 team and reportedly considered leaving soccer altogether, but recommitted, worked hard, and emerged as a hero during the finals.
But Lloyd wasn’t the only story of the power of sticking with it. Defender Julie Johnston, another standout in this tournament, wasn’t even in the qualifying squad last October for the CONCACAF tournament. A USA Today report details Johnston’s hard work as she recommitted to the game, began working with Lloyd and renowned coach Jim Galanis, and made her mark on this tournament.
At 23, Johnston is the second-youngest player on the team. Another defender, veteran Christie Rampone was the USWNT’s third substitution in the game. At 40 years old, she is the oldest player to be featured in a WWC game.
Kelley O’Hara isn’t a newbie to the national women’s soccer scene, but she wasn’t a household name to many soccer fans, either. After forward Megan Rapinoe was suspended from the USWNT’s quarter-final game against China for yellow-card violations, Kelley O’Hara was placed in the starting lineup. O’Hara was a substitute during the semi-final game against Germany, her lightning fast moves helped her score the second goal of the 2-0 shut-out in Montreal, giving the U.S. some breathing room in a tight, competitive game.
While Lloyd was the darling of the tournament, also filling the captain role for most of her time on the field, she quickly deferred to the players who came before her. When Abby Wambach took the field as a substitute during the game, Lloyd handed off her captain arm band to the forward, who currently holds the women’s world record for most goals scored. And when it came time to hoist the WWC trophy, Lloyd stepped aside and let Wambach and Rampone receive and lift the trophy together, honoring their leadership and contributions throughout the years. Despite her storied career, this was Wambach’s first WWC win.