On Saturday, July 2, 2016, for the second time in less than a year, a United States women's national team stood upon a medal stand and hoisted a World Cup trophy in the air, celebrating yet another impressive World Cup win.
This year it was the United States Deaf Women’s National Team (USDWNT), who defeated Russia 3-0 earlier that day to win their second consecutive Deaf World Cup title.
Starting goalkeeper and team captain Meghan Maiwald summed up the win in one word: "Priceless."
"It makes everything so worth it: the good and tough times, the struggle to fundraise, spread awareness and find the time to train on our own after family, career and school. It is something we work so hard for in a four-year span, and it all comes down to one moment," she said.
Defender Gracie Fitzgerald, who at just 17 years old was a fixture on the team’s back line throughout the tournament, agreed with Maiwald, adding, "It was both overwhelming and satisfying knowing it was the second World Cup for the U.S. Deaf Women’s National Team, and for me, personally, it is my first one ever."
The USDWNT, coached by former USWNT players and Women’s World Cup champions Amy Griffin and Joy Fawcett, was first brought to many fans’ attention in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. The team, which has to cover its own costs since it’s not funded by U.S. Soccer, began printing and selling t-shirts to cover the expenses to compete in the tournament.
Emily Cressy moves the ball down the field against Poland (Quinn Fitzgerald, Quinngenuity)
Soon players on the USWNT and in the NWSL began posting pictures of them wearing the shirts to generate more support for the team. USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo wrote a blog on her website about the team and its fundraising efforts, and Becky Sauerbrunn and Heather O’Reilly wrote an article for espnW about why they were supporting the team.
The attention from professional soccer players who have become household names in their own right caused the USDWNT to see a major increase in their fan base.
"It’s amazing for us to go through this time where our team is starting to make its way into the spotlight. To have our idols from past and present USWNT women tweeting at us and getting the word out, it’s a lot to take in. I am humbled, and I know my team is so honored and grateful to even have a fan base behind us every step of the way," center back Sydney Andrews, who won her first Deaf World Cup with the team back in 2012, said of the team’s sudden rise in fame.
"It’s almost like we don’t know what to do or how to respond, so we just get really, really, really excited. I mean really excited. After games, the few girls who had cell phone service would check Twitter and all of us would gather around and we looked at all tweets, photos, good lucks and congrats, and for myself personally, I was overjoyed, almost overwhelmed, with emotion because of the flood of love and support," she added.
Fans at home were able to continue showing their support for the team by following along with the team’s social media accounts and streaming each of the Deaf World Cup matches online, something the team was uncertain of until just before the tournament’s start.
"It was such a godsend that the tournament organizers were able to live stream every match, and it was quality. That just increased the visibility, along with the live updates on Twitter that fans were able to follow. Fans really got to see us for the first time since the team was formed over 15 years ago," Maiwald said.
With thousands of fans back home watching, the USDWNT began its journey to its second World Cup win. However, the road to the championship final was an unusual one as the tournament shifted to a round-robin format when one team pulled out at the last minute.
Mia Marin struggles to maintain possession of the ball in the Deaf World Cup final (Quinn Fitzgerald, Quinngenuity)
In their first match of the tournament, a June 22 match against Turkey, the USDWNT walked away with a 3-0 shutout, earning them their first three points of the tournament.
They then went on to compete against Russia on the 24th, a game that ended in a 4-1 win courtesy of an Emily Cressy hat trick, her first of the tournament. The win secured the U.S.’s spot at the top of the table, where they would remain for the rest of the tournament.
The USDWNT then took on Great Britain on June 26, defeating the British with another 3-0 shutout.
Host-nation Italy was the team’s next opponent, and the two faced off just two days later. Forward Emily Cressy tallied four goals in the match, while Chloe Rice scored the first two goals of her international career and Fetlework Blitch converted a penalty kick to give the USDWNT a solid 7-0 win.
On June 30, the USDWNT took on Poland in the last game of round-robin play. They notched their spot in the tournament final with a 4-1 win.
For the second time in the tournament, the USDWNT faced Russia. It was also the second time the two teams played in a Deaf World Cup final. Every time, the U.S. was victorious.
In the championship final, Cressy scored the game winner, and her partner up top, Casey King, added a brace to ensure a championship win for the team.
Emily Cressy proved to be one of the most dynamic players on the field for the USDWNT, and she said it was simply a matter of trying to lead by example.
"I played in the 2005 Deaflympics in Australia when I was 14, and I looked up to the veterans on the team. I hoped to help lead my team this year like they did back then," she said.
For her 13 goals and five assists in the tournament, Cressy was named Most Valuable Player, awarded the Golden Boot for most goals scored and was named to the tournament’s Best XI.
"Those accomplishments felt great but the biggest accomplishment for me was representing the U.S. and winning the gold as part of a great team," Cressy said of her accolades.
Defender Sydney Andrews controls the ball for the USDWNT (Quinn Fitzgerald, Quinngenuity)
The team’s undefeated, title-winning performance is impressive on its own, but it’s even more impressive in light of how much time the team trained together. The team held only two camps to prepare for this year’s Deaf World Cup, each of which was only four days long.
"We had so many eyes on us and we had a young team with new coaches. Basically, we were all still getting to know each other throughout the tournament. That may sound strange, but a lot of people probably don’t realize that we were only together for a total of 8 days before we left for Italy," midfielder Kate Ward said.
Not to mention that goalkeeper Meghan Maiwald was playing with a torn ACL and still only allowed two goals.
With the win, the USDWNT has now won two Deaf World Cup titles and three Deaflympics. The team remains undefeated and untied in international play, has tallied 146 goals, and only conceded 10 goals since the team formed in 1999.
It is the most successful, most dominant team in U.S. history.
"I guess it’s true that our record makes us one of the most successful teams in America. It’s amazing, to say the least. Our record on the field pretty much says it all," Ward said.
The team’s next big tournament is the 2017 Deaflympics, which will take place next July in Samsun, Turkey, and the players said they will be back and won’t return home empty handed.
"I will be attending the Deaflympics next year, and I can't wait to win the gold with the team," Fitzgerald said.
"You guys can expect to see me at the next event," Andrews agreed. "There's something about this team, the journey and the experience that keeps a hold of you. This team definitely has my whole heart."
Their new fans couldn’t agree more.