Basking in the afterglow of their triumph at the Estadio Municipal de la Florida late on Sunday evening, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan and Alyssa Naeher all sported broad smiles as they savoured the sweet taste of trophy success. There were even a few tears of joy for the three stalwarts of the US line-up, a fully understandable reaction to winning the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2008 in Chile.
The post-match awards underscored the weighty contribution made by the top trio to their country’s first success at this event in six years. Naeher claimed the Golden Gloves as best keeper, Leroux took the Golden Ball as Best Player and the Golden Shoe for the leading scorer, while Morgan came away with the Silver Ball and the Bronze Shoe. FIFA.com seized the opportunity to quiz the three starlets immediately following the awards ceremony.
"We’ve grown together as a family over the last two years," Naeher replied when asked about the Americans' recipe for success. The 20-year-old received a nod of agreement from Leroux, two years her junior, who finished top of the scoring charts after netting her fifth goal of the event in the 2-1 victory over title holders Korea: "My family here in Chile has been made up of 19 girls. I’m obviously talking about my team-mates, and their support has been unbelievable."
Morgan, who has emerged as the Chileans' undisputed crowd favourite over the last three weeks, was still struggling to put her feelings into words an hour after the final whistle. "What’s happened today has brought out the most intense emotions I’ve ever felt."
I’ve never felt anything like this in my life before. We all just wept for joy afterwards.
Relief was part and parcel of the experience, the California native admitted: "I always feel a certain amount of pressure in football, which comes down to the high standards I set myself." She is clearly extremely adept at dealing with her own demands, as shown by her goal of the tournament contender to make the score 2-0. Morgan weaved her way past no fewer than three Korean defenders before finishing smartly with her left foot into the bottom corner of the net.
Her strike partner, who struck the opener and finished the tournament one goal ahead of Morgan, was equally euphoric: "I’ve never felt anything like this in my life before. We all just wept for joy afterwards. We’ve been through a few things together as a team over the last eleven months. It’s been a long journey, but at the end of the day, it’s finished with each of us wearing a gold medal. I think the key to our success was going into the final with huge self-belief. We knew we’d have to score goals to win, and we’ve gone out and done just that."
However, unity and team play were the true defining characteristics of the USA's winning showing in Chile. Naeher kept a clean sheet throughout the tournament right until stoppage time in the final, when Cha Hu Nam netted what turned out to be a consolation effort for the Asians. "But it’s not so bad, as my only goal was for us to win the trophy. We’ve succeeded, and I want to say that my award as best keeper is also an award for the entire defensive line which I had in front of me." Indeed, Naeher and her goalscoring team-mates agreed that the collective sense of joy easily outweighed any individual emotions. "This triumph is the best feeling in the world," the keeper declared.
Interested spectator Pia Sundhage, the US senior women’s head coach, will have been thrilled to witness the star trio’s shared sense of purpose and camaraderie. It is a fair bet that Leroux, Morgan and Naeher are destined for plenty more time spent in each other's company, very probably revelling in further moments of triumph.