Women's World Cup 2019: 5 things we learned from USWNT's historic title run

After a thrilling 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the finals, the U.S. became back-to-back champions and broke a number of records.

USWNT

USA has secured its fourth Women’s World Cup title (1991, 1999, 2015 and 2019), now winning twice as many Women’s World Cup tournaments as any other nation.   -  Getty Images

The U.S. women's national team made history Sunday as the Americans claimed their fourth Women's World Cup title. 

After a thrilling 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the finals, the United States became back-to-back champions and broke a number of records throughout the tournament.

With 52 matches played over the course of a month, we take a look at a variety of things we learned from the eighth edition of the tournament.

READ : USA 2 - 0 Netherlands, as it happened

Underrated stars emerged

There were a handful of obvious players to watch entering the 2019 Women's World Cup, but new and underrated stars emerged as 552 players came together to fight for the title. Yes, everyone was expecting Alex Morgan to be the star of the show. And everyone knew Marta would deliver for Brazil, while Christine Sinclair was expected to carry Canada. All of that happened, but there were also stars that broke out and made a name for themselves.

 

Rose Lavelle is the most notable one. Not many people knew about her entering the tournament, but leaving it? Everyone was talking about the midfielder. She quietly stepped up and delivered for the U.S. At times, she was overshadowed by veteran stars like Megan Rapinoe, but Lavelle was one of the most consistent and reliable players for the USA.

Coach Jill Ellis kept her in the starting lineup while rotating Sam Mewis and Lindsey Horan. She came up big in the final as she netted the second goal in the 69th minute to further secure the United States' victory. She scored three goals in her first World Cup, and found creative ways to break through defenders.

Also for the United States, Crystal Dunn emerged as a true star. She went from missing the squad in 2015 to starting nearly every game in 2019. She proved to be one of the most versatile players in the world with the proof being in the different positions she's played for each team she's been on.

She played as a forward for the Washington Spirit in 2015, and then became a big playmaker for the North Carolina Courage in 2018 as a midfielder. But for the U.S. she played left back. Her past experiences certainly shined through in France.

READ : Megan Rapinoe becomes oldest scorer in a final

"I'm proud of myself,” she said after the victory at Le Stade de Lyon. "Whenever I have doubt in my mind, I always realize that I am the only one who is in this unique position. I'm the only one who can switch and play into a different position and be ready that very same day and rise to the occasion."

Another star on the rise? Germany's Giulia Gwinn. She won the best young player award, which is given to the top player under 21 years old at the start of the calendar year. She scored one goal in her team's 1-0 win over China, and proved she's only going to get stronger from here.

Equal pay gap conversations keep heating up

The more the Women's World Cup continues to grow and gain attention, the more the equal pay gap conversation will continue to grow. 

It was a topic leading up to the tournament, and one that the U.S. took legal action against over pay disparity and working conditions as several members of the national team filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. It was announced during the tournament that the players agreed to mediation and will resolve the issues after the tournament ends.

Rapinoe Golden Boot

Megan Rapinoe's penalty strike against Netherlands took her goal tally to six. With three assists, she was tied on top of the goalscorers' table with compatriot Alex Morgan. Having played fewer minutes, she took home the Golden Boot. She was also awarded the Golden Ball.   -  Getty Images

The U.S. will share a pot of $4 million for winning the tournament, while France's men's squad earned $38 million for winning in Russia last year. At the next World Cup in 2023, FIFA president Gianni Infantino wants to increase the prize money to $60 million, yet at the men's competition in 2022, teams in Qatar will have a pot of $440 million.

Infantino was booed during the trophy presentation, which was followed by chants of “equal pay."

Megan Rapinoe, known to be outspoken, kept the conversation going after the U.S. won yet another title. She called out FIFA and made it clear she wants the organization to take action.

"What are we going to do about it? Gianni, what are we going to do about it? Carlos [Cordeiro, USFF president], what are we going to do about it? Everyone. It's time to sit down with everyone and really get to work.

"This game has done so much for all of us, we've put so much into it. ... This is what the people want, give the people what they want, always."

Best World Cup yet, but still not enough depth

One theme throughout the month-long tournament was that the level of play has significantly increased from the World Cup four years ago. Ellis was fully aware before heading to France that her American squad would be challenged with a field of 24 teams that featured the most talent the tournament has seen up until this point. 

"The level overall is the women's game is growing exponentially. This was incredibly difficult," Ellis said after becoming the first coach to win two titles. "The teams we had to come through were some of the best in the world. In terms of the path and the level, this was pretty challenging.

Jill Ellis, head coach of USA looks on during the final match between USNWT and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon.   -  Getty Images

 

"I knew after 2016 we had to deconstruct and reconstruct the team. That was hard. But to get to this point and see the validation in all our work, it speaks for itself. People out there know about 1/10th of what we do. Congratulations to the Netherlands. They’re a world-class team and they gave us a heck of a game tonight."

Even with the added talent, it simply isn't enough. 

The U.S. faced criticism after a 13-0 victory over Thailand in its first match of the group stage. Many questioned whether the U.S. should've kept scoring, while others questioned their "distasteful" celebrations.

But in reality (and as Rapinoe pointed out), FIFA hasn't done enough to grow the game internationally.

Netherlands' Sari van Veenendaal changed the course of the tournament

There's a reason the score of the USA-Netherlands match was only 2-0, and that reason is Netherlands goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal. While the Netherlands are strong on attack, they might not have made it to the finals had it not been for Veenendaal and her incredible saves.

She made 20 saves throughout the tournament. Eight of those came in the final against the U.S., which marked the most saves by a goalkeeper in a knockout stage match at the 2019 Women's World Cup. She also was the main reason USA went scoreless in the first half of the final.

Veenendaal did allow two goals as the U.S. got warmed up in the second half, but that shouldn't overshadow her otherwise dominant performance.

VAR intervenes, proves to be inconsistent

The biggest source of controversy throughout the tournament came with the Video Assistant Referee, also known as VAR.

Maybe it's to be expected that a new piece of technology would create controversy, but it proved to get in the way of the flow of the matches at times and to be inconsistent.

 

One scenario where VAR was used involved penalizing goalkeepers for moving forward from the goal line before the ball was kicked. In one instance, a kick by France's Wendie Renard against Nigeria's Chiamaka Nnadozie traveled wide of the goal. The goalkeeper's movements had virtually no impact on the play, but Renard still got a second chance.

"If I give you my honest feelings, they'll probably send me home," Nigeria coach Thomas Dennerby told the reporters afterward. "So it's better I don't say anything."

VAR will likely be a moving target and something FIFA works to improve going forward.