Carli Lloyd's shot from the midfield stripe didn't hang in the air for 16 years, but it flew through the BC Place haze long enough to function as a handy metaphor for the drought that has so obsessed this generation of American women's soccer players.
By the time it hit its mark, and though there were still 75 minutes to be played, the wait was effectively over — and Lloyd had competed the fastest hat trick in World Cup history, male or female.
The United States women's national team jumped on Japan from the early minutes of the 2015 Women's World Cup final en route to a 5-2 rout of the defending champions on Sunday afternoon in Vancouver for its first title since 1999.
Lloyd, who missed a penalty kick as the U.S. lost to Japan in a shootout four years ago, opened the scoring less than three minutes in when she crashed onto midfielder Megan Rapinoe’s low corner kick.
Lloyd doubled the lead in the fifth minute off another set piece — this one a free kick from the right wing — and Lauren Holiday made it three in the 14th.
The Japanese were stunned, and the partisan American crowd that had streamed over the border urged their players forward, cheering for more.
Haze from the British Columbia wildfires poured into the open roof, lending an air of sleepy unreality to the biggest stage in women's soccer.
Lloyd did nothing to dispel that illusion when, just moments after Holiday scored, she completed her hat trick with one of the most remarkable goals in World Cup history.
Though she was still on the other half of the field, Lloyd caught a glimpse of Japanese goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihora wandering too far off her goal line.
Just a step inside the halfway line, Lloyd fired, lifting a high-arcing shot toward the distant goal. Kaihora backtracked, panicked, stumbled. She got flailing contact on the ball but nothing more — it bounced off the left post and over the line.
At 4-0, and though the game was only a quarter of an hour old, the match was essentially settled. That's not to say the entertainment stopped there.
Yuki Ogimi pulled a goal back for the Japanese in the 27th minute, and Julie Johnston's header beat Hope Solo inside the back post to cut the American lead to 4-2.
But the nerves subsided nearly as quickly as they arose, as Tobin Heath fired home Morgan Bryan's assist to make it 5-2 in the 54th minute.
The second half functioned as a 45-minute coronation — though both teams continued to push for more, by the time the game reached its hour mark, it was clear that no comeback was forthcoming.
Rapinoe, who was celebrating her 30th birthday on Sunday, made way for Kelley O'Hara and departed to a resounding ovation. The cheers got even louder when Abby Wambach replaced Heath with 12 minutes to go.
The all-time leading goal scorer in women's soccer history only played a cameo in the final, but her joyful, tearful reaction at the final whistle hinted that she didn't much mind her limited role in her first-ever World Cup title.
The wait was over.
By Matt Pentz — The Seattle Times Distributed by TNS
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