At the end of a “Heartbreaking” week that started with a exposure of abuse and reactivation of traumaand on a night that began with statements against sexual violence and racism, then a moment of silence for a tragedyIt would have been easy, perhaps even appropriate, to forget that there is joy in sport.
It would have been easy to see and listen to Becky Sauerbrunn speakand to Read about the “gruesome” things powerful men have done to wonderfully talented women.and feel discouraged.
But then, at 8pm in London on Friday, with 76,893 fans watching in person and millions more on television, the US and England women’s national teams played a soccer game, and all was momentarily forgotten, or rather, remembered.
“I want to remind everyone,” Lindsey Horan had said earlier in the week, after a round of questions about the Yacht Report“that this game is unbelievably cool.”
A couple of days later, she and two dozen others explained, with their feet, their brains and their skill, why.
The game ended 2-1 to England and snapped an American unbeaten streak of 21 games. Without video review, it would have been 2-1 to the US, but the result didn’t really matter. “Actually, this is not a big game,” US head coach Vlatko Andonovski said Thursday. “But … it’s a good show,” he said, and a “statement in women’s sports.”
And what a show it was. England were cunning and forward-thinking, and went a long way to show that she will challenge the USA for world supremacy next summer. The USWNT, even without half of its first-choice starters, was consistently dangerous and, though second-best, very battle-ready.
The Lionesses scored first. American center back Alana Cook made a mistake. And Beth Mead made her pay, as world-class teams tend to do.
But Sophia Smith, playing No. 9 in the absence of Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh and Catarina Macario, responded.
Smith, who at 22 is both the future and the present of the USWNT, was excellent all night, even in an unnatural position. England couldn’t cope with his speed and sharpness from him.
But the hosts more than rose to the occasion. They managed a strong American midfield, controlled some early stages of the game and dominated possession.
They took the lead again later in the first half with a penalty, awarded after a slight touch of a high boot to the face by Lucy Bronze.
The US equalized soon after, only to have an exquisite break, headed by Smith, made by Megan Rapinoe and finished off by Trinity Rodman, nullified for an unseen offside.
The first half went from end to end. It was brilliant entertainment. The second half was a bit more subdued, but nonetheless full of quality.
It was all wonderful publicity for the sport, and well worth the price of admission for the record-breaking crowd (by far the most for a friendly played by either team, and the third-most for a match in the USWNT in history) that pay it in less than 24 hours.
“The level of soccer right now is crazy,” Rapinoe said Thursday of women’s soccer around the world. Friday’s match proved her point.
And it wasn’t a reason to worry about the USWNT’s chances of achieving a three-time World Cup title in 2023. It was a reason to celebrate.
Oh, and it was a review. “Obviously it was an extremely difficult week for everyone,” Andonovski said. “I am proud that the players are on the field to play this game…I applaud their courage, their fearless mindset and their relentlessness. Once again, they showed that nothing can stop them from playing the game they love.”
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