LYON, France – They ran roughshod over the best field in history, winning seven times in seven ties. They scored a record 26 goals, gave up just three, and in 630 minutes of soccer, they never trailed.
The Americans made their run to a second straight Women's World Cup title look easy. It was anything but.
So when it ended in a 2-0 victory over a stubborn Netherlands on Sunday before a raucous crowd of 57,900 at Stade Lyon, the U.S. players wrapped one another in flags and hugs and shared both cheers and tears.
"I don't know if I've collected my thoughts just yet. I'm so emotionally exhausted," said Alex Morgan, the co-captain who finished with six goals in this World Cup.
The scores Sunday came from Megan Rapinoe, who was named the tournament MVP, on a penalty kick in the 61st minute and from World Cup newcomer Rose Lavelle, who sealed the Americans' fourth world championship in the 69th minute.
"The whole experience hasn't really hit me yet," Lavelle said. "It's so surreal now."
Especially given the long, circuitous and difficult route the U.S. took to get here.
A year after winning her first World Cup as coach, Jill Ellis saw her team eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics, the earliest exit from a major tournament in the proud program's history. So she completely rebuilt the team from top to bottom. Roster, tactics, everything.
"I knew after 2016 we had to deconstruct this and reconstruct it," Ellis said. "That was the plan. We had to continue to evolve because the game was growing so fast.
"That was hard. But I think that was ultimately the right decision. To get to this point and see the validation in that and the trust in the players that came through that, it speaks for itself."