That said, leading works best when you win. After the Americans shared their spaghetti back in 1991, they beat the Swedes the next day. Then they won the whole tournament. There have been nine Women’s World Cups in history; the American women have won four. The team has been so good that Americans have begun taking their women’s team’s success for granted, even as we make its members fight for their legitimacy.

The American women’s team has built a legacy of thriving amid challenge, representing American optimism at its best. And when has the landscape been better for female athletes than now? They know what many of us believe: The best is still ahead.

But we have to work for it. It’s fair to question the team’s recent performance on the field, provided you valued its performance in the first place. “I wasn’t truly confident in this team winning the World Cup,” Carli Lloyd, a U.S. women’s team veteran of 17 years, told The Athletic this week. “I think there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance,” she added. The American women don’t need to be coddled. They lost their pedestal, and it’s worth thinking hard about why.

As the U.S. star Megan Rapinoe has said many times, you have to earn your platform if you want people to respect what you say. On Aug. 6, she took her last shot of her international career, when it mattered most, in a penalty kick — and she missed the goal altogether. It was awful.

But no one rises forever.

Painful as that moment was, we are witnessing a seismic change in women’s soccer that is incredibly exciting. Both finalists this year, Spain and England, are first-time contenders for the global title. Both countries now have equal pay structures for their men’s and women’s teams. This, too, is astonishingly recent. In England, for example, women were barred from playing organized soccer for 50 years, until 1971 — a common theme for women’s sports around the world. Now the world is catching up with America and will continue to push higher. Hopefully they’ll share their spaghetti, too.

Lindsay Crouse is a writer and producer in Opinion. She is a competitive athlete and produced the series “Equal Play,” which led to widespread change in women’s sports.

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