NEW YORK (AP) – One by one, tired and disappointed members of the U.S. Women’s World Cup team trudged off the bus and were greeted with cheers and waves from appreciative fans who didn’t seem to mind a bit that they came up short of a championship.
About 24 hours after the Americans squandered a pair of late one-goal leads and were beaten in penalty kicks by Japan in the tournament’s final game on July 17, they arrived from Germany to Newark, N.J., and heard the first rounds of applause Monday.
Returning home meant a police-escorted bus ride into Manhattan and an encounter with a few hundred fans who had waited on the sidewalk in sweltering heat to welcome them back to friendly turf.
“Really humbling, and truthfully it’s probably brought my spirits up more than anything else could have,” said forward Abby Wambach. “I am so disappointed for my teammates, myself. I am so disappointed for our country because I really feel like we had it. It was so close.
“Coming home to this kind of reception is truly one of the best things that has ever happened.”
By virtue of wins over North Korea (2-0) and Colombia (3-0) in their first two group stage matches, and later a 5-3 “down-to-the wire” victory over Brazil in dramatic form, the American women were poised to face Japan in the finals.
With the spectacular end to the game against Brazil, the American women were likely favorites facing Japan, in comparison a team tiny in stature. However, the Pacific island nation had other plans – battling back twice to pull even at 2-2, with their final goal coming with just three minutes left in extra time.
The end result – Japan won in a penalty shootout to become the first Asian nation to win the Women’s World Cup.
While many U.S. players returning to rejoin their Women’s Professional Soccer teams, collectively this group is already looking ahead to the 2012 Olympics in London.
Nothing will take away all the hurt from Sunday’s loss except a World Cup victory in four years.
“This one will sting,” said midfielder Heather O’Reilly of the Sky Blue FC. “I don’t think we will ever forget this loss, but hopefully we have another chance. With the Olympics right around the corner, we’re going to be back into our training regimen right away.”
Most of the players managed to smile some upon their arrival, even while talking about the bitter defeat.
Before returning to their respective teams, Hope Solo, Wambach and Megan Rapinoe appeared on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” on July 19, and Solo and Wambach were seen on “Late Show with David Letterman.”
“At the end of the day, we did better than the last World Cup,” midfielder Carli Lloyd said. “We made it to the finals after not having been there since ’99. We have to keep things in perspective. We created a buzz back here. We lifted women’s soccer around the country and even around the world.
ADW Sports Editor Deitra P. Johnson contributed to this report.