LYON, France _ Ask Jill Ellis and she'll say her United States women's national soccer team wins so often because it has something no other team has.
No, not the best players. The last three world players of the year have all played for someone else. No, not the best club teams to draw from, because those are all in Europe now.
What Ellis' team has is intangible. Can't see it, touch it or feel it. But it was on full display again Tuesday when the U.S. gutted out a 2-1 semifinal win over England to advance to a third straight Women's World Cup final Sunday. The U.S. will play the winner of the second semifinal Wednesday between Sweden and the Netherlands.
"There's something to be said for always believing that you can win," Ellis said. "We look at the game as every moment is there to seize. So whatever it takes has kind of been the mentality and the mind-set of this team.
"Finding a way to win is straight up. It doesn't matter to me how."
Here's how they did it this time:
When Megan Rapinoe, who had all four U.S. goals in the previous two games, is unable to go because of a hamstring issue, Christen Press starts in her place, scores a goal and sets up the other.
When Alyssa Naeher is called upon in the closing minutes to stop a penalty kick that could have tied the score and possibly sent the game to overtime, she dives directly into the path of English captain Steph Houghton's shot, saving the game and potentially the World Cup.
"Everyone is willing to step up. That's the mentality of this entire team," midfielder Julie Ertz said. "Whatever's thrown at us, we're going to take."
And more often than not, beat.
The Americans' semifinal win is the 11th in a row in Women's World Cup play. No team has won more. It also ran their unbeaten streak in the tournament to a record 16 games dating to 2011, when they began their string of three straight trips to the final.
That too has never been done before. And the U.S. has been tested like no other team along the way.
"This is the hardest route to the final that a team's probably ever taken in terms of the level of competition," said Ellis, who is unbeaten in 13 games as a World Cup coach which is _ you guessed it _ a record.
"They find a way. I attribute that to just the mental strength of the culture, the environment, the history, the tradition."
Press gave the U.S. the lead in the 10th minute when she got away from English defender Lucy Bronze in the penalty area and headed in a perfect cross from Kelley O'Hara into the right corner of the net. It was the sixth time in as many games the U.S. took a lead in the first 12 minutes.
The shot beat backup goalie Carly Telford, who was starting in place of Karen Bardsley after England lost its star to a hamstring injury. Bardsley had given up only one goal in five games and Telford lasted just 12 minutes before matching that.
But Ellen White picked up her teammate in the 19th minute, slicing between U.S. defenders Abby Dahlkemper and Becky Sauerbrunn to deflect in Beth Mead's low cross from the left side for her sixth goal of the tournament and tie the score.
Alex Morgan, who has been bruised, battered and beaten up all tournament, climbed off the turf again to score what proved to be the deciding goal in the 31st minute. Again Press, Rapinoe's understudy, made it happen.
A booming Dahlkemper ball from the far side of the midfield stripe seemed headed out along the left side when Press floated underneath and chested it to the ground. She then sent it on to Lindsey Horan, whose perfect chip hit a leaping Morgan in stride for another header and a 2-1 lead.
Afterward Morgan, who turned 30 Tuesday, celebrated by pretending to drink from a cup of tea. A dig at the English, perhaps, who had made so much this week about catching up to the top-ranked Americans?
"I didn't say it," she answered. "You guys did.
"I was thinking of all the noise in the background and the fact that this team has persevered through so much, not taking the easy route through this World Cup. It was just a little 'pinkie's up.'"
Morgan's celebration nearly proved premature. Minutes after an apparent tying goal from White was taken off the board when video replay showed she was barely offside, White was clipped from behind in the box by Sauerbrunn. This time a lengthy replay review ended with Brazilian referee Edina Alves Batista awarding a penalty kick.
"When we got the penalty I said, 'We're going to win it,'" English coach Phil Neville said. "But it was not to be."
It was not to be because Naeher was not about to be beaten, diving low and to her right, directly into the path of Houghton's shot in the 84th minute.
Asked if it was the best save she's made, Naeher's face brightened into a huge smile.
"It's probably up there," she said.
And with that a team that has spent its World Cup fielding questions about arrogance for running up the score against Thailand, about the ongoing gender discrimination lawsuit against its federation, and about whether it will visit the White House after the tournament was left with one question _ is it still the best team in the world?
Ellis promises we'll get the answer Sunday.
"We are here for one thing. That's it," she said. "Not lawsuits. Not silly trumped-up things. Not external noise. We're here for one thing: that's to win."
It doesn't matter how.