There is nothing in the world quite like soccer player at the highest level. Our latest reminder of that came in the semifinal matchup of the Women’s World Cup between the United States and England, an absolutely thrilling affair between two of the best sides on the planet. But thanks to some heroics from American keeper Alyssa Naeher, the USWNT came out on top, 2-1, and punched its ticket to the 2019 World Cup final.
The intrigue began before the match when U.S. manager Jill Ellis released her lineup, one that did not include American hero Megan Rapinoe taking up her usual spot on the left wing. The starting spot ended up going to Christen Press, and while it was unclear why this happened, Rapinoe not warming up implied an injury concern, something that was confirmed at the half, when Rob Stone of Fox Sports said she was dealing with a bum hamstring.
The good news, though, is that Press is very good, and in the 10th minute, she got the Americans on the board first. Kelley O’Hara played in a gorgeous cross from down the right flank, Press got her head to it, and the United States found itself up, 1-0.
England was undeterred, though, and nine minutes later, their most proficient goalscorer drew them level. Beth Mead had the ball on the left side of the pitch and fired a cross right in front of goal. American defender Abby Dahlkemper was unable to make a play on the ball, and Ellen White tapped it past Naeher.
The goal unsurprisingly breathed a bit of life into the Three Lionesses, who kept the ball well and settled into the proceedings following White’s effort. The United States were able to keep them from scoring again, though, and in the 31st minute, Lindsey Horan celebrated Alex Morgan’s birthday by giving her striker a ball on a silver platter.
Horan chipped a perfect pass over the English defense to Morgan, who read the flight of the ball perfectly, beat English keeper Carly Telford to put the USWNT up, 2-1, and had a spot of tea to celebrate.
The Americans got into the locker room with the lead, which continued for the first 20 minutes or so in the second half. Then, the English appeared to have struck, with White splitting the American defense and slotting a ball past Naeher. But by the slimmest of margins, VAR determined that White was offside, protecting the USWNT’s slim lead.
That was not the last time we saw VAR put its influence on the proceedings. In the 79th minute, England’s Demi Stokes played a ball into White, who looked like she whiffed on what should have been a sitter. A lengthy review ended up determining that Becky Sauerbrunn made contact with White as she was preparing to make contact with the ball, leading to a penalty.
There was some controversy regarding the call, because there is always controversy surrounding this stuff. It did, however, give Naeher the opportunity to cement her place in American soccer history, and she rose to the occasion.
The save, along with England getting Millie Bright sent off due to a pair of red cards, gave the United States the boost it needed to come out on top. The 2-1 scoreline propelled the USWNT to its third World Cup final in a row, and now, the team is one win away from becoming the second team to ever go back-to-back as champions. The final will take place on Sunday, and we’ll have to wait until Wednesday to see if the United States will take on the Netherlands or Sweden.