By JULIE JAG
LONDON — They came wearing Uncle Sam hats and stars-and-stripes tights.
They came with flags on sticks and flags on their backs. They came with red-white-and-blue paint on their cheeks and hope in their hearts.
Somehow, some way, even though the organizing committee for the London 2012 Games made tickets nearly impossible for foreigners to purchase, the USA fans found a way into Wembley Stadium to root on their women’s soccer team.
Then they roared louder than a jumbo jet as the players did the only thing they could to repay their fans’ loyalty: Win.
Carly Lloyd scored both goals for Team USA — one for each half — and Hope Solo served as a green-clad force field around the goal Thursday as the U.S. defeated Japan 2-1. The win served as a cup of revenge for a 3-1 shootout loss to the Japanese in the Women’s World Cup final last July.
“It’s amazing,” summed up fan Betsy Eisenhower. A Colorado native now living in Haslemere, England, about an hour away from the stadium, she and her husband, Frank, and their children Matthew, 14, and Laura, 12, waved red and blue cardboard U-S-A letters they had cut out the night before.
The players agreed.
“Man, I can’t put this into words. This is such an incredible feeling,” said Megan Rapinoe. “This is not quite redemption for what happened in the World Cup to Japan, but it’s a great feeling.”
“It’s great, and it’s going to feel extra good going home,” said Lloyd, a New Jersey native.
Lloyd missed her penalty kick in the World Cup shootout against Japan last year, sending it high over the crossbar. In the Olympics, though, she has been Team USA’s golden girl. She scored the only goal in a match against Brazil to bring home gold in Beijing in addition to her two goals Thursday.
The USA has won four of the past five gold medals, missing out in 2000.
Lloyd’s first goal against Japan came in the seventh minute. Cal’s Alex Morgan found herself directly in front of Japan’s goal but also in a swarm of traffic. So, she crossed the ball back toward Wambach on the far right side of the cage. Before it got to Wambach, Lloyd came barrelling in.
“I just ran for the ball. I passed Abby. I was just going for it,” said Lloyd, who scored the header past Japanese keeper Miho Fukumoto.
Solo got the rare assist on Lloyd’s second goal. Her long pass reached Lloyd just outside the box, where Lloyd made it a goal in two kicks by placing a high, arching punt over Fukumoto’s head in the 54th minute.
And the crowd went wild.
About half the 80, 205 fans — an Olympic record for a women’s soccer match — did all they could to make Lloyd and company feel right at home at Wembley. The other half cheered just as enthusiastically for Japan, making the stadium a rollicking place full of flags and camera flashes.
“It’s much better watching it here than on TV,” Matthew Eisenhower told his mother.
It was if you like drama. Solo played the heroine defensively, making just five saves, but doing it with flair. She punched two shots over the goal in the first 20 minutes and on another occasion stopped a two-on-one opportunity.
“If you have a keeper like her back there, you know she’ll save the day,” Lloyd said. “And that’s what she did.”
The players spent more than an hour soaking in the feeling after the medal presentation. They posed for pictures, fidgeted through interviews and danced across the field to the tune of Katie Perry’s “Fireworks” in celebration. Much of the crowd stayed too.
Nobody wanted to go home. Maybe because in a huge stadium in west London, they felt like they were already there.
“We had a lot of USA chants, a lot of friends and family that had travelled a long way,” said Christie Rampone. “To play in front of 80,000 people in a gold-medal match, it doesn’t get better than that.”