The US women’s soccer team won the World Cup on Sunday, beating the Netherlands, 2-0, in Lyon, France.
It was a fitting conclusion to three weeks of kicking butt and taking names. This was the US women’s team’s No Apology Tour de France.
It was like watching the Michael Jordan-Larry Bird Dream Team win Olympic gold in 1992. In seven World Cup games, the US scored 26 goals and gave up only three, never trailing for a single second. They became only the second team to repeat as World Cup champs, winning 12 straight World Cup games since 2015. Along the way, they became a television ratings powerhouse: a better show than the NBA playoffs.
Sunday in Lyon, an overmatched Dutch squad kept things scoreless through halftime, but US captain Megan Rapinoe — an avowed Donald Trump hater who protests during the national anthem (Rapinoe is the only player who won’t place her hand over her heart) — broke a scoreless tie in the 61st minute, blasting a penalty kick past Dutch goalie Sari van Veenendaal. Ten minutes later, breakout star Rose Lavelle made it 2-0 with a full-gallop, left-footed laser into the right corner of the goal.
Winning their fourth World Cup on the 20th anniversary of their second victory (remember Brandi Chastain?), US players morphed into national heroes and international celebrities. And they did it in throwdown, America-first fashion.
They beat Thailand, 13-0, in their opening game, celebrating each goal with gusto, including multiple choreographed demonstrations. In the aftermath, US players were portrayed as bullies and poor sports. There was scolding and speculation that well-earned bad karma would come back to haunt them.
A strident media cartel and loyal legion of fans would have none of it: Critics of the USWNT were dismissed as haters of women’s sports, haters of soccer, folks jealous of the American Way. But the international noise seemed to fuel the US team. Sometimes you need to find a boogeyman when there’s not much competition on the field.
Global perception of the US team as arrogant and overconfident was amplified before the Americans’ second game when coach Jill Ellis went with a largely different starting roster. After an easy 3-0 win over Chile, veteran American defender Ali Krieger explained, “We have the best team in the world and the second-best team in the world.’’
Translation: Our bench is better than any other team on the planet.
The US women are more successful and a better draw than the US men’s national soccer team, yet still don’t receive equal pay. In March, the USWNT sued the US Soccer Federation for equal pay, and in the wake of Sunday’s win, they appear to have a very strong case.
Advancing to the knockout round, the United States faced better competition against the likes of Spain, France, England, and finally, the Netherlands. America’s quarterfinal match against host team France in Paris was considered possibly the toughest test, but the US prevailed, 2-1. Rapinoe punctuated the victory with a “Are You Not Entertained” goal-celebration pose, triggering yet another wave of blowback on social media and in the European press.
“Wah, wah, wah,’’ the purple-haired Rapinoe replied. “We’re at the World Cup. I don’t think anyone truly believes we disrespect the game or our opponents.’’
The controversial 34-year-old captain drew more attention when quotes surfaced in June of her ripping into Trump and stating “I’m not going to the [expletive] White House,’’ in the event the US team received an invitation. This ignited a Twitter stream of predictable scorn from Trump, who said he would invite the team, win or lose.
In the week before the final, the US dynasty mimicked The Patriot Way when it was learned that American team representatives had checked out hotel accommodations for the championship final before playing England in the Cup semifinal. Overconfidence. Again. It was World Cup meets Spygate.
America won its semifinal vs. England on a tie-breaking goal by superstar Alex Morgan, but Morgan’s goal celebration in which she simulated sipping tea drew heat from around the world.
“Alex Morgan mocks England with sip from World Cup,’’ screamed the front page of the New York Post.
Morgan said her raised pinky was an homage to “Game of Thrones” actress Sophie Turner, but added, “I think there is some sort of double standard for females in sports, to feel like we have to be humble in our successes. . . . You see men celebrating all over the world in big tournaments, grabbing their sacks or whatever . . .”
There were no over-the-top celebrations in the championship final. And few charges of arrogance or bad behavior. Rapinoe was named winner of the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
It’s not bragging when you back it up.
So there. The world is conquered. The No Apology Tour is over. The Wheaties box awaits. The US women’s national team will roll down the Canyon of Heroes at a ticker tape parade in Manhattan on Wednesday.
About an hour after the victory came this tweet from Trump: “Congratulations to the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team on winning the World Cup! Great and exciting play. America is proud of you all!’’
Now about that trip to the White House . . .
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy