VANCOUVER, British Columbia - As tens of thousands of American fans passed through the gates of BC Place, they made it clear that they had not come just to cheer. They had come to demand, filling the stadium with voices, drums, flags, scarves, and costumes ranging from hairpieces to three-piece Stars-and-Stripes suits.
And when the whistle blew to begin the seventh Women's World Cup final, the 11 players representing those fans on the field gave them a reward beyond their wildest dreams.
With a stunning four-goal outburst in the game's first 16 minutes - including the first hat trick in final history by Delran's Carli Lloyd - the United States crushed Japan, 5-2, before a crowd of 53,341 that included Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill.
Lloyd won the Golden Ball as the tournament's most outstanding player.
In the days before the game, Lloyd said she saw "something different in the air" at the U.S. team's practices.
"We were just super-excited, super-anxious to start this game," she said. "We knew if we would take it to Japan, they would get nervous."
The Americans did that and more. Before the clock reached three minutes, they were on the board thanks to a trademark set piece. Megan Rapinoe, celebrating her 30th birthday Sunday, sent a low and hard corner kick to the outer portion of the 18-yard box that completely fooled Japan. But Lloyd knew exactly what was coming and stepped up to slam home an unstoppable volley. It was the fastest goal in Women's World Cup title game history.
Barely 90 seconds later, Tobin Heath darted up the right flank and drew a free kick just off the end line outside Japan's 18-yard box. Again, the service was intentionally low. Again, it wreaked havoc on the Japanese defense. And again, Lloyd buried it.
From there, the Americans brought the tempo down just a bit. The time was right to keep the ball and make Japan chase it, especially with smoke from suburban forest fires adding to the summer heat.
Yet even amid the change in tone, the scoring onslaught continued.
In the 14th minute, Lauren Holiday jumped on a Japanese defensive mishap to smash home the third goal. In the 16th, Lloyd took advantage of the shadows that covered all but Japan's end of the field to chip the fourth past goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori from the halfway line.
Japan was stunned, but to its credit, not for long. The Nadeshiko continued to play the smart passing style that got them to the final, and in the 27th minute produced a well-taken goal by striker Yuki Ogimi.
That drew cheers from the healthy contingent of Japanese fans in the stands - Vancouver has a huge expatriate population - but no concerns from the Americans around them.
Japan's next goal, however, was a different story. In the 52d minute, Julie Johnston headed a Japanese cross into her own net, with Hope Solo coming up just short of palming the ball off the goal line. Suddenly, the crowd started to wonder.
Two minutes later, Heath restored security. After another Rapinoe corner was poorly dealt with by Japan, Morgan Brian settled the ball and laid it back for Heath to finish from close range.
Heath made way in the 79th minute for Abby Wambach, the all-time leading scorer. Lloyd, knowing it was time for Wambach to fill the only hole on her unequaled resumé, handed over the captain's armband. That gave Wambach the right to lift the trophy.
In the 86th, Christie Rampone - the last active player from the 1999 champions - was summoned to her own curtain call.
When the final whistle blew, a deafening torrent of cheers rained down from the stands as the American bench charged on to the field.
Quietly, Wambach gave Rampone the armband to wear during the medal ceremony. A few moments later, they each put a hand on the trophy and raised it together.
"It was unbelievable that we could do it together," said Rampone, who was raised in Point Pleasant, N.J.
But it was entirely believable that at long last, the American World Cup title drought was over.
BY THE NUMBERS
3. First-half goals by Carli Lloyd, a World Cup record for men or women.
54. Yardage on Lloyd's third goal of the half.
540. Minutes without allowing a goal, a streak that ended for the U.S. in the first half.