The Women’s World Cup soccer final included plenty of tears for Stephanie Cox. But when Cox returned to her home in Gig Harbor and spoke about her experience, there was a smile on her face and joy in her voice.
Cox, 25, was a defender for the U.S. national team, which fell mere minutes short of the World Cup title in Germany on Sunday, losing to Japan, 3-1, on penalty kicks after the game ended in a 2-2 tie.
“It was sad to see the game end that way, but credit Japan,” Cox said Thursday during a press conference at the Gig Harbor Civic Center.
“They fought, and they had a great tournament, and we really respect their team and what they’re doing for their country.”
Japan’s stunning run to the championship, which came just four months after the country was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami, ended up overshadowing the story of the American team, which had to survive a playoff against Italy just to reach the tournament.
Cox’s only action in the tournament came in a group-stage win over Colombia. She came in as a substitute for Amy LePeilbet early in the second half and helped set up Carli Lloyd’s goal.
With the World Cup behind her, Cox will return to play for the Boston Breakers of Women’s Professional Soccer, and she plans to chase a second Olympic gold next summer in London.
“I still have a lot of confidence, even though we got second and I didn’t play as much as I would’ve liked,” she said.
“So I think that feeling and that spirit is really encouraging, that I can play another four years and go hopefully to another World Cup.”
Cox said that as a child, she idolized figure skater Michelle Kwan, who won five world championships from 1996-2003, but she began to play soccer when she was 5. She won a bronze medal with the U.S. team at the 2007 World Cup, and a year later, she helped them win gold at the Beijing Olympics.
This week offered a small break for Cox and her husband, Brian, who attended the Women’s World Cup with her. As busy as she has been with soccer, they took the opportunity to focus on something other than her sport.
“The time that we have together is so precious that we don’t really talk about sports too much,” said Brian, a South Kitsap graduate and currently an assistant basketball coach for the Wolves.
“She’s playing soccer at the highest level you can play it at, so she knows what it takes. And when we’re together, we just enjoy being around each other, go to dinner, go to movies, just have fun.”
Stephanie Cox said watching the German crowd become decidedly pro-American during the game against Brazil was remarkable.
Trailing 2-1 in overtime and down to 10 players because of defender Rachel Buehler’s red-card ejection, the United States kept its hopes alive thanks to a last-minute extra time goal from Abby Wambach. A save from goalkeeper Hope Solo helped them win the match on penalty kicks.
“That was one of the most stressful games I’ve ever been in,” she said. “We just kept screaming and kept cheering our players on. We scored in the first three minutes of the game, so I think a lot of us thought, ‘OK, this will be nice and smooth and easy.’
“Brazil is a remarkable team; they have a lot of individual personality,” she said. “It was pretty special to see how the momentum changed after we went down a player. We were going at them, and they were almost lucky to hold on.”
The United States beat France in the semifinals, 3-1, but twice lost leads to Japan in the thrilling finale.
It was an equally stressful time in the stands for Cox’s husband. Brian Cox pitched for the University of Portland, where the couple met before they married and moved to Gig Harbor three years ago.
“I think one of the fun things about being in the stands is you really don’t have to keep your emotions in check,” Brian Cox said. “I can’t say I’m a diehard soccer fan — I love watching Steph play — but that was the greatest sporting event that I have ever been to.”