The United States are World Cup winners, beating Japan 5-2 in an incredible rematch of the final from four years ago. All but one of them are World Cup winners for the first time. Some of the players from this incredible squad will not play another big match for the team.
For longtime fans of the United States women's national team, three of the players on this year's Women's World Cup squad have been in the spotlight for more than a decade's worth of World Cups. The 2015 edition of the competition marked the fifth for Christie Rampone, and the fourth for both Abby Wambach and Shannon Boxx.
Wambach, in particular, was seriously emotional before this World Cup. It would be the tournament that defined her legacy, and she couldn't stomach finishing her career without lifting the biggest prize in her sport. She's finally done it, while Boxx has her first as well, and Rampone has her second.
They're all unlikely to be featured at the 2016 Olympics, and there's no chance that any of them will play in the 2019 World Cup. This was it for them, and they're going out in the best way possible.
On August 16 and 19, the USWNT will play friendlies that will likely serve as the send-offs for these players. We're not going to wait until then to thank them for everything they've done for American soccer.
Rampone was a member of the 1999 World Cup team, where she was a backup defender, known then as Christie Pearce. She's played next to Carla Overbeck, Brandi Chastain, Kate Markgraf and the current slew of young defenders, racking up 307 caps along the way. With her appearance at this World Cup, she became the competition's oldest player ever -- including goalkeepers. At 40, she's still one of the fastest players in the team.
Boxx wasn't expected to appear at this World Cup. She was a key figure in Germany, but was not an every-game starter at the Olympics and was left out of the team afterwards. But with the team's failure to find a replacement, Boxx was drafted back into the squad and made her 191st appearance in a national team shirt during the group stage. She was rarely considered a star player during her career, because defensive midfielders rarely are, but the USWNT's inability to find a replacement shows just how valuable she's always been. There are not a bunch of future Shannon Boxxes lying around.
Wambach is arguably the greatest women's soccer player of all time. Her 183 international goals are the most all-time, men or women, and she eclipsed Mia Hamm's record of 153 in fewer caps. She's been named the World Player of the Year, and her 122nd minute goal against Brazil in the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup is the most famous goal in American soccer history. Her unstoppable aerial presence altered the way the USWNT played and made them a force during her prime, even if they used tactics that the rest of the world considered to be rudimentary.
These players were not just national team legends, but pioneers for the sport in the United States. Hamm, Chastain and the rest of the starters on the 1999 team made women's soccer popular, but the likes of Rampone, Boxx and Wambach have kept it going. They have been part of all three professional women's soccer leagues in the U.S., including the current and most stable one, the National Women's Soccer League. Its existence would be impossible without the contributions of these three players.
They are three of the greatest American soccer players of all time, but they're more than that. They have positively affected the lives of thousands of kids. They've played on through missed paychecks. They've served as the marketing arm of clubs who didn't know how to sell women's soccer or were simply too cheap to put together a marketing department. When women's soccer stagnated after a disappointing 2003 World Cup and the folding of WUSA, they were among the most important figures in its revival.
Wambach, Boxx and Rampone have gone well above and beyond their obligation to the national team and the various clubs they've played for. Women's professional soccer and American soccer as a whole are getting better, and they will continue to get better because of the efforts of these players and others like them.
So thank you, to all three of you. You are legends, on and off the pitch.