And then, almost without warning, Alex Morgan slipped the ball through to Heath. Her cross missed Sam Mewis, hurtling into the box, but found Rapinoe, who elegantly slid the ball home. Even under the most intense pressure France could generate, even in the caldron the stadium had become, Rapinoe was perfectly unfazed, her calm, and that of her teammates, absolute.
The celebration of that goal offered a reminder that these players are only human. There was no choreographed display, as there had been against Thailand and Chile, only raw emotion: fists pumping the air and bodies clambering on Rapinoe’s back. What happened in the final few minutes emphasized that: the U.S. is not impervious to the scale of its achievements, or the scope of its expectations.
That it survived, though, speaks volumes, speaks louder. The United States did not crack. It did not make mistakes. It did what had to be done: It carried the ball to the corner, it wasted time. It tried to seek contact, to win cheap fouls, to slow the French advance, to draw the sting. And it worked. Through those seconds that felt like lifetimes, the United States held on.
Only at the end, when the circus was over, did the players allow themselves a little release. O’Hara sought out Heath and picked her clean off the ground. The substitutes’ bench emptied, as France’s players stood stock still, unable to move, their own dream over in front of their own crowd.
Rapinoe and her teammates made sure to console them, to offer some words of solace: they are human, hard-nosed but not hardhearted. France’s journey ends here. The United States, unrelenting and inexorable, keeps moving forward, the circus left behind in its dust.