The 10 Greatest Moments in USWNT World Cup History
The USA and their women’s soccer team have been on top of the world for quite some time. These are the 10 most memorable moments in USWNT World Cup history.
In 2023, the United States women’s national soccer team players will have a chance to write their names into the history books with the first ever women’s World Cup three-peat. If they’re able to accomplish such a feat, it will be one of the greatest accomplishments in women’s soccer, and in US international sports altogether.
As the 2023 tournament gets underway, let's take a look back at some of the greatest moments in the history of the USWNT.
Make sure to explore our other World Cup sections, including the favorite to win Women’s World Cup, Women’s World cup sleepers, odds to win Women’s World Cup and the 10 Best FIFA Women’s World Cup Group Games To Watch.
USWNT World Cup History
The United States Women’s National Soccer team holds the title as the most successful international team in women’s World Cup history. USWNT World Cup history highlights their dominance in this tournament, with five finals appearances in eight tournaments and a remarkable record, consistently placing third or higher, making them formidable contenders and champions year after year.
How many World Cups has the USWNT won?
The United States women’s national soccer team is the most successful team in women’s World Cup history. They won the very first World Cup in the women’s game in China in 1991, and have since claimed another three more in 1999 and back to back years in 2015 and 2019.
Ranking the 10 Greatest Moments in USWNT World Cup History
- Alex Morgan sips English Tea
In the 2019 Women’s World Cup Semi Final against England, it was Alex Morgan who broke the 1-1 deadlock with 30 minutes played.
The two fierce rivals had been battling it out for a place in the final, and Morgan had her say on the rivalry with her goal celebration. After her well guided header found the back of the net Morgan pulled up and gestured with a sip of tea, and it was her goal that sent England home and led the USA to the final, where they would claim their second straight World Cup trophy.
- Michelle Akers 10 Goal Record
The very first World Cup victory in USWNT history was also the very first World Cup full stop, hosted in China in 1991. There were just 12 teams at the tournament, and although the USWNT World Cup roster was one of the most talented in the competition, they still had to go out and prove that they were as good as we thought they were.
Leading that charge was Michelle Akers, a legendary US soccer player throughout the 1990s. She scored 10 goals in the ‘91 contest, seven of which came in the knockout rounds.
The USWNT games included a 7-0 drubbing of the Chinese Taipei, in which Akers scored five, and when they met Norway in the final it was Akers two goals that led to a 2-1 win and the World Cup title.
- 2011 Redemption vs Germany
Germany had been a force in women’s soccer for several years, winning a stunning eight European Cups in nine years, including the previous six in a row. Not only that, but they’d been back-to-back World Cup champions in 2003 and 2007, making them the first women’s soccer team to successfully defend their World Cup title.
In the 2015 final the USWNT would meet Germany, offering them an opportunity to prove themselves as the best team in the world. 2011 had brought pain to the US through a heartbreaking loss on penalties in the final, and this time they wanted a different ending to the story.
Carli Lloyd converted a penalty in the 69th minute to give the USA a 1-0 lead, and as Germany scrambled to try and get back into the game late on, a second goal from Kelley O’Hara closed the door. The 2-0 performance was one of the most profound USWNT World Cup wins to date, and signaled the resurgence of the USWNT.
The USA were back, and they went on to win the World Cup that year to bring home the third title in US women’s soccer World Cup history.
- Abby Wambach's last gasp equalizer
Talk about a photo finish. The 2011 USA squad faced a fierce Brazil team in the 2011 World Cup Quarter Finals, led by the legendary Marta.
There was USA vs Brazil history going into this one. It was Marta who had punished the USA four years earlier, scoring two goals in a 4-0 humiliation that marked the USWNT worst defeat ever in the World Cup.
Fast forward back to 2011 and it was looking like Marta had done it again, scoring in the second half to level the game at 1-1 and then scoring again early in extra time to give Brazil the upper hand.
The USWNT battled, and pumped the ball down the left hand side to Megan Rapinoe, who hit a deep lofted cross from the left hand side right over the heart of the penalty box. The Brazilian keeper came for it and missed, and Abby Wambach’s powerful header found the back of the gaping net. There were 122 minutes played when the goal went in, and the USWNT went on to take home the win on penalties and advance to the Semi Finals.
- Kristine Lilly’s Goal Line Clearance
The 1999 World Cup presented a chance for the USWNT to claim victory in their own homeland, an achievement that held significance far beyond just winning a soccer tournament. It had the potential to inspire young women across the country, igniting a passion for the sport and propelling its growth.
China presented the challenger in a picturesque game played at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, and neither team was going to go down without a fight.
Having won a corner from the left-hand side, China whipped a cross across the box which was met by a leaping attacker, firing a header towards goal that had goalkeeper Brianna Scurry beaten.
Fortunately, the all-time most capped player in international soccer history was positioned perfectly on the goal line, and powered the ball right back out with a header of her own. It was that header that saved the USWNT that day, and would ultimately lead to the heart stopping penalty shootout. We’ll come back to that one.
- Winning the very first World Cup tournament in 1991
The women’s game hadn’t grown to the level it is at today back in 1991. American players who wanted to play had no option for professional domestic soccer in the US back then, so the likes of Michelle Akers played for teams like Tyreso in Sweden.
The 12-team tournament faced its own challenges, like not being allowed to use the ‘World Cup’ branding, and so instead being called the 1st FIFA World Championship for Women's Football for the M&M's Cup, after a sponsorship deal with M&Ms candy.
The USWNT went out on a mission for U.S. soccer and the growth of the sport for women, and emerged victorious. Michelle Akers was outstanding, and the 1991 USWNT roster was full of legends of the women’s game, including Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain.
They beat Norway 2-1 in the final and set the tone for women’s soccer. Overnight, USA became the team to beat.
- Carli Lloyd’s Redemption Hattrick
The 2011 Women’s World Cup penalty shootout weighed heavy on the minds of the USWNT players in 2015 as they looked to rebound from the loss.
Japan had stolen the World Cup from under the noses of USWNT soccer in the shootout, and Carli Lloyd was one of the players who missed her penalty to open the door.
Four years later, as fate would have it, the USA got a chance to redeem themselves against Japan, and you’ve never seen determination quite like it.
Within 15 minutes the USA led 4-0, and Carli Lloyd had scored a hattrick. Not only that, but one of her goals had come from a moment of magic from the halfway line, catching Japan's goalkeeper off her line and firing a shot over her head.
The USA rebounded and won the World Cup final over Japan 5-2, reclaiming their throne as champions of the world.
- Going back-to-back in 2015 and 2019
Up until 2019, Germany had been the only team capable of winning the women’s World Cup in back-to-back tournaments. The USA had re-emerged as the world champs in 2015, and the 2019 tournament offered them a shot at joining Germany in that accomplishment.
The USWNT’s dominance in 2019 was as good as it’s ever been, scoring 18 goals in the three group stage games alone, which set a new record.
In the knockouts the USA ran through some of Europe’s finest, beating out Spain, France and England on their way to the final, where they met the current European champions, the Netherlands.
Second half goals from Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle settled the final at 2-0, and the USWNT were finally back-to-back champions. Now, at the Women’s World Cup 2023, the USWNT will have a chance to complete the three-peat, which would make history in World Cup competition.
- Rapinoe’s 2019 Rampage
The 2019 knockouts were thrilling for the USWNT, and no star shone brighter than Megan Rapinoe. The experienced winger erupted in the competition, with vital contributions in every single game as the U.S. advanced.
Rapinoe was the best player on the pitch, playing at her very best at 34 years old. She scored two penalties to help the USWNT past Spain in the round of 16, displaying her cool head and calm approach to the biggest moments on the biggest stage.
France came next, hosting the tournament with high expectations, but it was Rapinoe once again who proved to be the difference. She was dangerous throughout, but it was a dangerously whipped in ball from the left-hand side that flew through multiple legs and into the back of the net. She scored twice in that game to make it 2-0, and the USA would once again advance despite a late goal from the French.
Even in the Semi Final while ruled out with a hamstring injury, Rapinoe was influencing the game from the sideline. She was almost coaching her teammates, and offering words of encouragement and tactics whenever she got the chance. She made it her mission to make it back for the final, and when the USA suited up against the Netherlands, Rapinoe was in the starting lineup.
A second half foul in the box on Alex Morgan gave the U.S. a penalty, and Rapinoe calmly dispatched it to claim her 50th goal for her country.
Rapinoe was named the player of the match in the final, won the Golden Ball for player of the tournament, and won the Golden Boot for scoring the most goals in the competition too. Later that year she was awarded the Ballon d’Or Feminin for her form over the past year and contribution in the USWNT FIFA women’s World Cup games.
- 1999 Penalty Shootout in Pasadena
The 1999 World Cup final was a tense affair, and the USWNT had a lot on their shoulders going into the competition. They were hosting the tournament for the very first time, and it was the USA vs the world with more eyes on them than ever.
Having the tournament being played on home soil meant America was more in tune with the competition, and more fans than ever before had flocked to focus themselves on the potential success of their international soccer team.
The USA had breezed through the group stage with 13 goals and then took down both Germany and Brazil on their way to the final, giving women’s soccer fans a show in the process.
The final itself was a nailbiter, with the aforementioned goal line clearance from Kristine Lilly proving to be a key moment in the game. Ultimately it all led to penalties, and somebody needed to step up and be the hero.
As it turned out, one on one the USWNT ladies stepped up calmly with the weight of the nation on their shoulders and dispatched penalty after penalty. Goalkeeper Brianna Scurry saved China’s third attempt, which handed the advantage to the USA.
With China having taken all five of their penalties and scoring four, and the USA going second scoring all four of their attempts so far, Brandi Chastain made the long walk from the halfway line knowing that if she scored, she would send her country into celebration.
She confidently swept her penalty into the corner, past the outstretched hand of the Chinese goalkeeper, and fell to her knees in celebration. She was swarmed by her teammates and the celebrations followed, marking one of the most important U.S. Women’s soccer World Cup wins in history.
That day lit a fire in the hearts of many young girls watching in North America, and helped to propel the success of the women’s game all over the country.
Parameters of Rankings
These all-time USWNT moments have been ranked based on the importance of the moment, the magic it created and anything else that makes it so memorable for U.S. women’s soccer.
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