The United States women withstood another big European challenge on Tuesday and stayed on track to defend their Women’s World Cup title following a 2-1 defeat of England which included VAR calling back an England goal and awarding the Lionesses a penalty.
Oh, and one of the Yanks’ perceived weak links stopped said penalty.
Alyssa Naeher stands tall… again
“She has to be Player of the Match,” said Alex Morgan of goalkeeper Alex Naeher’s performance. “She saved our butts today.”
It’s difficult to put it any better than the American striker, who scored what stood up as the match-winning goal because her goalkeeper was so good in the second half.
Naeher’s most notable moment will go down as the save of Steph Houghton’s late penalty kick, but the 31-year-old Connecticut stood a whole lot bigger than her listed height of 5-foot-9 when she flew through the air for a two-handed save earlier in the second half.
But again, everyone’s going to be talking about the penalty save (even with the poor attempt from Houghton).
“I just said that was your shining moment, but we have one more game,” said USWNT coach Jill Ellis. “What a fricking stop.”
No Rapinoe, no problem: Lineup tumult fails to faze
To a player, the United States women’s national team has spoken about its strength in depth, with backup left back Ali Krieger issuing the most confident/arrogant of any quotes in the tournament (depending on if you’re a supporter or a detractor).
“We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world,” she said in mid-June.
While, of course, that’s an exaggeration, the belief clearly flows through the team. Christen Press stepped in for Megan Rapinoe and scored the opening goal, then put in a monumental shift which included a hockey assist on Morgan’s headed winner.
It should be noted that Press is actually more productive than Rapinoe over her USWNT career, with 48 goals in 121 caps as opposed to Rapinoe’s 49 in 157. But we digress…
“It’s crazy. It was so emotional. The heart and grit it takes to score twos goals with our head early, save a penalty, have a goal taken back… to stay strong, stay composed, and stay calm,” she said.
Women’s soccer is at its pinnacle
Perhaps it would be more fitting for this tournament had the English upset the USWNT, because an all-newcomer final between the Netherlands and England would’ve met the tournament storyline at eye level.
This Women’s World Cup is the best top-to-bottom tournament yet, with collective guards down and nations 100 percent on show.
Comparing the men’s and women’s games is fraught with risk and rather silly, so let’s dance with the one that brought us here; Each Women’s World Cup has been a step in the right direction, right down to the once-dominant USWNT needing to brush off its shoulders as Germany and Japan kept them from the final for two cycles.
As the Americans angle to become the second nation to repeat as World Cup champions, it’s worth noting the nations not in the semifinals. No Germany, no France, no Japan, no Brazil. Dark horses at the start of the tournament had a real chance to shine, and it’s difficult to see that dipping as Italy and Spain rise and many more are sure to follow by investing in the game.