From near heartbreak to pure elation, relive the top five moments of the U.S. women's remarkable journey through the 2015 Women's World Cup.

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If you tuned into only the final of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, you watched a dominant United States steamrolling helpless Japan 5-2 en route to its record third title. That storybook ending, however, would have been incomprehensible even a few weeks ago, when the team was at less than its best and many predicted it was headed for a hard fall. Here were five pivotal moments as the USWNT went from punching bag to undisputed champion over an eventful few weeks in Canada.


 

Meghan Klingenberg #22 of the United States celebrates after the 1-0 victory against Nigeria in the Group D match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 at BC Place Stadium on June 16, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Meghan Klingenberg #22 of the United States celebrates after the 1-0 victory against Nigeria in the Group D match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 at BC Place Stadium on June 16, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

5. United States vs. Sweden, group stage, June 12 in Winnipeg: Klingenberg clears

For years, the United States has been defined by its marketable forwards, a line stretching from Mia Hamm through Abby Wambach to Alex Morgan. In this tournament, though it was a stingy defense that allowed the U.S. to stay alive long enough for its attack to find its legs. Julie Johnston was a revelation at center back and, at 23, will likely be a pillar of this team for a long time. Left back Meghan Klingenberg’s made her star turn during the team’s worst game of the World Cup, a dour scoreless draw against Sweden – one the 26-year-old preserved with a late, dramatic, headed clearance off the line. The U.S.’s next generation back line had arrived.

[U.S., Sweden play to scoreless tie in Women’s World Cup group match]


Morgan Brian (R) of the USA vies for the ball with Wang Lisi (C) of China during the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 quarter-final match between China and the USA at Lansdowne Stadium in Ottawa, Canada, 26 June 2015.  EPA/CHRIS ROUSSAKIS
Morgan Brian (R) of the USA vies for the ball with Wang Lisi (C) of China during the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 quarter-final match between China and the USA at Lansdowne Stadium in Ottawa, Canada, 26 June 2015. EPA/CHRIS ROUSSAKIS

4.  United States vs. China, quarterfinals, June 26 in Ottawa: Brian fills in

Yellow-card suspensions forced coach Jill Ellis’ hand: Neither do-everything Lauren Holiday nor Megan Rapinoe, the team’s best player to that point, could play against the Chinese. The midfield was shuffled, and Morgan Brian slotted into the center of midfielder. Nevermind the fact that Brian was only 22, or that she had previously played mostly as an attacking mid. Brian’s willingness to play a more disciplined, defensive style freed up the rest of her teammates to concentrate on aiding the attack. It was a template Ellis would follow the rest of the way.

 

[U.S. women’s soccer advances to World Cup semi-finals after 1-0 win over China]


Germany’s Celia Sasic (13) reacts after missing a penalty kick against U.S. keeper Hope Solo during the second half of a semifinal in the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament, Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Montreal, Canada. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)
Germany’s Celia Sasic (13) reacts after missing a penalty kick against U.S. keeper Hope Solo during the second half of a semifinal in the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament, Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Montreal, Canada. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

3. United States vs. Germany, semifinals, June 30 in Montreal: The Solo psych out

The U.S. found itself in an unfamiliar role, as an underdog against the top-ranked team that had more than lived up to its billing. It was also likely about to find itself down a goal, as Johnston’s probably-should-have-been-a-red-card sent German striker Celia Sasic to the penalty spot. American goalkeeper Hope Solo took her time in readying herself, probably longer than rules allow. And Sasic sent her shot whistling past the left post. “I did the stall tactic,” Solo told Fox Sports in typically unapologetic fashion. “It worked.”

[U.S. blanks Germany, advances to Women’s World Cup final]


United States’ Carli Lloyd (10) scores a penalty shot against Germany keeper Nadine Angerer during the second half of a semifinal in the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament, Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Montreal, Canada. The United States won 2-0. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)
United States’ Carli Lloyd (10) scores a penalty shot against Germany keeper Nadine Angerer during the second half of a semifinal in the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament, Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Montreal, Canada. The United States won 2-0. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

2. United States vs. Germany, semifinals, June 30 in Montreal: Big Game Carli, Part 1

U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd has long had a reputation for rising to the big occasions – one burnished by her two goals in the 2012 Olympic gold medal match – and she stepped up to a PK just moments are Sasic’s put her own wide. Lloyd hit it perfectly, smashing her shot into the corner of the net. Lloyd helped the U.S. clinch the victory, too, with the run and pass that led to Kelley O’Hara’s insurance tally in the 84th minute.

[U.S. soccer star Carli Lloyd is determined goal-scorer]


 

Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori (18) allows the first goal to United States’ Carli Lloyd during the first half of the FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Sunday, July 5, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori (18) allows the first goal to United States’ Carli Lloyd during the first half of the FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Sunday, July 5, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

1. United States vs. Japan, final, July 5 in Vancouver: Big Game Carli, Part 2

It may take a few days to fully appreciate the magnitude of what Lloyd pulled off on this hazy Sunday afternoon at BC Place – even Lloyd says she might have to spend a few quiet days to herself in her South Jersey home to process what, exactly, just happened. Lloyd didn’t just become the first soccer player to net a hat trick in a World Cup final since 1966 – she did so in just 16 minutes. The midfielder pounced on two set pieces in the opening half-dozen minutes and saved her best for last, burying a oh-no-she-didn’t strike from a step inside the midfield stripe to put the United States up 4-0. “Four goals in 16 minutes?” Wambach said afterward. “Literally, I don’t even know how that happens, especially in a World Cup final.”

[U.S. smashes 16-year Women’s World Cup drought, beats Japan 5-2]