VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Throughout the Women's World Cup, United States coach Jill Ellis continually insisted that the criticism she received did not knock her off an even keel. On Monday, she made it clear that she isn't going to let winning a title go to her head too much, either.
"You kind of put your seat belt on and go for the ride, but I try and keep very calm," she said amid the American team's day-after celebrations in downtown Vancouver.
But she acknowledged that she was "just ecstatic" about ending the Americans' 16-year title drought. Why shouldn't she be? Her team didn't just raise the trophy, it did so playing its best soccer of the tournament in the games that mattered most.
And it commanded attention to a degree never before seen in women's soccer. The 5-2 rout of Japan on Sunday at BC Place was the most-watched soccer game on television in American history, drawing 25.4 million viewers on Fox and 1.27 million on Telemundo. An additional 241,000 viewers watched online, making for an audience that rivals many Major League Soccer television broadcasts.
Hard-core fans and casual observers alike could see that the victory represented an end of an era - especially for Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone, who lifted the trophy together on the podium.
Now Wambach, 35, the most prolific goal scorer in women's soccer history, can finally ride off into the sunset with the one prize that was missing from her resumé. Rampone, at age 40 the oldest player to take the field in a World Cup, has a bookend to her career as the last active player from the 1999 title-winning squad.
"As much as you want this for your country and you want this for these players, those women have given so much," Ellis said. "To send them off with a World Cup, I get emotional thinking about it, because that was a big, big part. They've done so much for the game, and now to leave their mark, and [have] people talk about them - this generation now has their next set of heroes."
Rampone did not directly say that her international career is over, but she acknowledged that the time has come to pass the proverbial torch.
"Adding that third star [as World Cup champion], it means a lot," she said. "And I think the generation to come is going to be completely amazing. I think this team has what it takes to win a lot more."
The question of what Wambach does next will be among the biggest talking points as the Americans prepare to chase a third straight Olympic gold medal next summer in Rio de Janeiro. The squad for that tournament will be limited to 18 players instead of the World Cup's 23. Ellis said she'll pick "the best players that I think will help us win," but also will make "an investment in the next World Cup" in France in 2019.
Wambach had said this World Cup would be her last. She did not speak with reporters Monday, but her mother, Judy, did.
"Because we have so much fun doing this, I would hope that she would [go to Rio], but she has always said that they have to want her to," Judy Wambach said. "There's a lot of young, beautifully talented women behind her now that can take the reins and be successful."
CONCACAF's regional Olympic qualifying tournament is scheduled to begin at the end of January. So it likely won't be too long before we find out if mother knows best.