Authored by Seth Johnson
It happened at the World Cup in 2015. The first semi-final in Canada had begun. The United States was deadlocked at nil with the German machine as the coveted sphere played an elusive game of hide-and-seek with the pair of nets.
In the 67th minute, U.S. forward Alex Morgan charged the box near the left wing—compelled, driven and relentless in open space with the ball. At the edge of the box, the whistle rang out like the screech of rubber on asphalt in a quiet American suburb. German foul. Yellow card. Annike Krahn had leveled Morgan on her run, dispossessing the round as the American took flight like an eagle freefalling from its nest.
But to the surprise of the Germans, the referee sauntered off pointing to the spot—penalty U.S.A. Morgan appeared to be out of the box by a significant margin, the line an unfathomable distance from where she took flight. The broadcasters questioned the call. All of Germany lamented. But the dreadful tyrant in blue stood firm.
The round had already denied a penalty kick in the 63rd minute. She cleverly tricked Celia Sasic into thinking she would glide home into the back of the quivering nylon; instead, she slipped to the left, end-over-end in mocking disregard.
This time, though, she obeyed the commands of U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd.
Lloyd gave her no choice but to kiss the net with a swift peck. The captain looked her in the eye, unwavering. Time seemed to stand still, frozen though the clock ticked onward in defiance. Lloyd ignored it—this was not about time, it was about her and the ball. With the deepest respect, the sphere stared back awaiting the swift boot, unsure of her own fate for the first time in the match.
The whistle signaled the penalty. Lloyd did not bat an eye, pumped her legs like pistons against the turf and gently approached the ball at rest on its white oval spot, waiting for the gentle caress. Boot met leather. Leather swirled through the air like a bullet fired through the barrel of a rifle. Spiraling. Hurtling. Soaring.
The German goalkeeper guessed left. The round sped right. Ball. Net. Goal. She finally relented, a sign of respect and a nod to the American footballer.
Lloyd roared in defiance. The multitude of Americans in the crowd and across the continent came to life as if shocked by a lightning bolt through the heart of the country. Twenty minutes remained. The U.S. led 1-0 with the final on the line. As the Germans sat in awe of the unfortunate twist of fate, the ball danced back onto the pitch. She was at the mercy of the U.S. now. For the rest of the World Cup, she remained faithful to Lloyd, who scored three goals in the 5-2 final victory against Japan, and sent the Americans home with the most coveted prize in women’s football.