MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
On Sunday, soccer fans will be watching the final game in what has been a thrilling Women's World Cup, especially thrilling if you are a United States fan. The defending champion U.S. team plays the Netherlands. This is the Americans' third straight World Cup final, and they are going for a record fourth title. The Dutch meanwhile have never gotten this far in the tournament.
NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now to talk about the Women's World Cup and what to expect this weekend. Hey, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So safe to say the U.S. is the favorite going into this game. Why are they so darn good?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, very safe to say. They have an incredibly deep lineup. They beat a very good English team in the semifinals without the star who has carried them through the knockout round, the lavender-haired Megan Rapinoe. She was out with a hamstring injury for that game.
KELLY: Yeah, is she going to be back for the final, by the way?
GOLDMAN: You know, she says she will - so fingers crossed on that.
GOLDMAN: Then, you know, you have players like Carli Lloyd, Christen Press, Mallory Pugh, outstanding players who could start for most other teams. They haven't regularly been in the U.S. starting lineup. And on top of that, you've got the firepower - great attacking scoring forwards. Alex Morgan is tied for the scoring lead in the tournament. The U.S. has scored early in all of its games, so the Americans have put opponents back on their heels early.
And of course the U.S. defense has been stout when it's needed to be. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher had a number of game-changing saves against England - so just a few reasons, Mary Louise, why this is a heck of a formidable group.
KELLY: Yeah, good offense, good defense - and tell us about their opponent, the Netherlands team. How are they shaping up?
GOLDMAN: Yeah - very good team. Obviously you have to be to get this far. They are the reigning European champions. And most of that championship team from 2017 is playing on this World Cup squad. So there's continuity. There's familiarity, and that helps a lot.
KELLY: Experience, sure.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, and specifically they have a trio of attacking forwards who make the Dutch a very exciting team. And I am going to pronounce their names effortlessly for you or at least attempt to.
KELLY: (Laughter) OK, go.
GOLDMAN: We have Vivianne Miedema. We have Lieke Martens. And we have Shanice Van de Sanden. So they...
KELLY: Flawless. I love it.
GOLDMAN: Almost flawless.
GOLDMAN: A little hitch on that last one. A potent group of scorers although their attacking style of play also could lead to problems for them. If the U.S. defense is on form, it could leave Holland vulnerable to counterattacks.
KELLY: Now, meanwhile, a little controversy brewing - which is that as exciting as this match you've persuaded me is going to be on Sunday, it's not the only big soccer match happening on Sunday, which is prompting some questions, I gather, from the women's team about having to share the spotlight. What's going on?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's right. You have the Copa America final matching the top teams in South America. You have the CONCACAF Gold Cup final also on Sunday. Now, that's normally a great matchup between the U.S. men and Mexico archrivals. Kudos to the U.S. men, by the way. They've not had the same international success as the women, and it's good for them to be in a final like this.
But Rapinoe in particular was outspoken about her disappointment that there's this confluence of events. The women play at 11 a.m. Eastern on Sunday. The other finals are later in the day - so no overlap. But Rapinoe, you know, puts this in a larger context of the women always having to scrap for more money, better working conditions. And it's her strong belief that this is just another slap.
KELLY: All right, lots of soccer, lots of play coming on Sunday. That's NPR's Tom Goldman. Thank you.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.