Women’s World Cup: Why the U.S. Wins
While it helps to be from a big, rich country, the secret to the success of Carli Lloyd and the Americans is simple: years of hard work
Months of penalty-kick practice paid off for Carli Lloyd Tuesday night, when she scored the winning goal from the spot in the semifinals against Germany. ENLARGE
Months of penalty-kick practice paid off for Carli Lloyd Tuesday night, when she scored the winning goal from the spot in the semifinals against Germany.

When Carli Lloyd stepped forward to take a crucial penalty kick Tuesday night against Germany, she was supremely confident. But it wasn’t because of some heartfelt belief in U.S. women’s soccer exceptionalism.


U.S. 2, Germany 0 (Tuesday)
Japan vs. England, Wed., 7 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1)
Final: Sunday, 7 p.m. ET (Fox)
“I’ve been taking PKs every day after practice for seven or eight months,” said Lloyd, who buried the winning goal into the side of the net in the 69th minute. “The thing about a penalty kick, if you hit it hard enough and at a certain height, there isn’t a goalkeeper in the world who can save it.”

It is easy to look at the U.S. team and chalk up its continuing success to the countless advantages it enjoys. The Amer icans come from a country that has a deep pool of talent, the resources to develop its players and a federal law that guarantees equal opportunity for women’s sports. Those factors can’t be discounted; the American women made the supposedly overwhelming Germans look slow and plodding.

The U.S. upset top-ranked Germany, 2-0, on Tuesday night, booking a spot in the Women’s World Cup final for the second time in four years. Photo: Getty.
Yet to focus on just those innate advantages is to discount how hard the U.S. women worked to prepare for this stage.

Four years after a crushing, come-from-ahead defeat to Japan in the Women’s World Cup final, the U.S. has returned to the sport’s ultimate match. The journey to this point has been the product of intense work and practice over a very long time, symbolized by Lloyd’s clutch score in Tuesday’s semifinal victory.

In reaching the final, which will be against the winner of Wednesday’s Japan-England match, the U.S. has outscored the opposition 9-1 in this tournament. But the more interesting number might be this one: The Americans have outscored opponents 7-0 in the second half. That sort of late domination only has one explanation: The Americans, from the top of the roster to the bottom, have simply been fitter than every team they have faced, and as everyone knows, there are no shortcuts when it comes to being fit.

U.S. Women Top Germany to Reach World Cup Final: Photos
Americans upset Germans, 2-0, in the semifinals and are headed to Sunday’s final
That brings us back to Lloyd, the all-world midfielder who has scored in each of the past three games, carrying the U.S. team to the brink of its first World Cup title in 16 years.

“The thing about Carli is she doesn’t have much of a natural motor,” said James Galanis, a club soccer coach in southern New Jersey who trained Lloyd ahead of the World Cup.

In other words, Lloyd wasn’t blessed with a body that uses energy especially efficiently. There are metrics for this, most notably the VO2 max, a performance indicator that measures the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can use. Galanis made a face that looked like he had just tasted sour milk when asked what Lloyd’s natural VO2 max was.

To make up for this, Galanis—who began working with Lloyd a dozen years ago, after she had bombed out at a national-team camp—put her on a grueling six-hour-a-day training regimen heavy on fundamentals, plus at least 90 minutes a night of leg-burning endurance training that Lloyd still follows. In the lead-up to the World Cup, that included penalty kicks.

Lloyd’s work ethic filters through the team. Defender Julie Johnston trained with her in November during what was supposed to be a postseason break from soccer. Goalkeeper Hope Solo was suspended for 30 days last winter after she became belligerent with police when they arrested her husband for drunken driving during a team camp, according to police and U.S. Soccer inquiries into the matter. Solo, who apologized for disappointing her teammates, worked out with U.S. coaches throughout the suspension.

At 35 years old, Abby Wambach believed her body couldn’t endure a club season and be in prime shape for this tournament, so she played small-sided pickup games with men throughout the spring to remain fit. After every match during this World Cup, the U.S.’s reserve players are out on the field bright and early the next day, getting in practice so they can be ready when coach Jill Ellis calls their name.