The Women’s World Cup concluded its best run yet with the United States women’s national team’s 2-0 defeat of the Netherlands on Sunday, the fourth title and second-successive World Cup for the ladies of the red, white, and blue.
There will be temptations from some to give the USWNT approximately 11 out of 11 spots on a Best XI, but let’s face it: The best team didn’t often have its best game during its unbeaten run through France.
Some are no-doubters: Having this team without Julie Ertz or Kelley O’Hara would be criminal. But there are a lot of tough decisions here.
Should a quarterfinalist get a player on the XI, given that France lost to the champions in a brutal draw? How many USWNT players should make it? Alex Morgan did all her statistical damage in one match, but did so much that doesn’t show up on the score sheet. And how do we pick three center backs when the best defenders were out wide?
Ultimately, we’re playing a right back out of position because we can, because Julie Ertz is going to clean up a lot of messes, and because this team will never take the field: It’s a post on the Information Superhighway.
Alyssa Naeher stopped Steph Houghton’s 83rd minute penalty kick, which was awarded by VAR, and the United States women’s national team reached its fifth Women’s World Cup Final with a 2-1 defeat of England on Tuesday in Lyon.
Christen Press and Alex Morgan gave the Americans leads in the match, but only an Ellen White equalizer arrived in the semifinal.
Ellen White scored England’s goal and Millie Bright saw her second yellow card just after Houghton’s butchered penalty attempt to send the Lionesses down to 10 players.
Lavelle has been outstanding in the early stages for the United States.
Press is the one who started the scoring, however, getting on the end of a looping cross from O’Hara and popping a header home for 1-0 in the 10th minute.
England drew level when Beth Mead’s cross beat the outstretched leg of O’Hara and White ran behind Abby Dahlkemper to snap the ball past Naeher with the outside of her foot. Game on.
Becky Sauerbrunn redirected a long English drive wide for a corner in the 28th minute, and the Yanks retook the lead moments later.
A diagonal ball from Abby Dahlkemper was well-controlled by Press on the touch line, who fed Horan. The former PSG star spotted Morgan, whose surgical run was matched by her header for 2-1.
Morgan celebrated by sipping a mock cup of tea. How very appropriate, Kermit, British, or both.
It wasn’t long after that that Naeher had to make a flying two-handed save at the back post. What a start.
Horan picked up a yellow card early in the second half, making it two awarded on the day after Millie Bright was shown a first-half caution.
Naeher made an in-tight save as England beganits fight for an equalizer.
A turnover deep in English territory allowed Press to drive at the Lionesses’ goal, but she failed to spot two teammates and instead unleashed a wild shot.
White then appeared to bring England level again, with White running between the American center backs to slot a low drive past Naeher for 2-2 with 22 minutes to play… but offside.
Demi Stokes looked to have sent England level for real, but something happened as her perfect pass got to White and saw the tournament’s leading scorer whiff on her effort to make it 2-2. VAR checked to see if Becky Sauerbrunn interfered with White, and she most certainly caught the striker’s leg.
But Houghton’s penalty kick was poor, and Naeher corralled the bounding low ball to preserve the win.
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).
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.