My 3 Thoughts on England-USWNT
England wins 2-1 in what could be a preview of next year's World Cup final.
LONDON — The U.S. women’s national team lost to England 2-1 on Friday at Wembley Stadium in a match that felt from the start like a big-time occasion. It was the U.S.’s first defeat since the 1-0 Olympic semifinal loss to Canada. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
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• These two teams are my favorites to win next year’s World Cup, and that didn’t change watching this game. Look, it was a friendly, and both teams were missing some important players (Alex Morgan, Catarina Macario and Mal Pugh for the U.S., and Leah Williamson and Alessia Russo for England). But both teams came to play, and the U.S. was hard done to have VAR rule out Trinity Rodman’s first-half goal that would have made the score 2-2 when it didn’t appear to be offside. (By the way, would VAR have even been used if this friendly had happened in the U.S.? I doubt it.) For anyone who saw this summer’s Euros and the CONCACAF championship, though, this U.S. performance (while not perfect) was a rejoinder to anyone saying that some sort of significant gap has grown between the two teams this year. The U.S. came into a hostile, loud environment and flipped that switch the Americans have flipped over the years to engage. England and the U.S. were taking each other’s measure in this game, with far more important games to come, but this one will whet the appetite for those potential showdowns in 2023.
• Naomi Girma and Alana Cook got a test at centerback, and Girma passed with flying colors (again). Girma, the 22-year-old San Diego Wave rookie, barely put a foot wrong against the attack-strong European champions, and after her terrific performances in the NWSL and in the CONCACAF championship she looks like a U.S. starter for the next decade. It’s even more clear watching in the stadium that Girma is whipsmart in her positioning and smooth in her passing out of the back, and on the rare occasions when she needed to tap into her recovery speed she did so with ease. For her part, Cook, the 25-year-old OL Reign defender, was at fault on England’s first goal when she misplayed Beth Mead’s cross into the box, allowing Lauren Hemp to pounce. Cook also nearly gave away a goal on a turnover early in the second half. I still think Becky Sauerbrunn, the 37-year-old Portland Thorns veteran, shouldn’t be out of the mix for a starting spot at the World Cup.
• I’m getting used to being in big crowds for women’s games. This was my second sold-out women’s game at Wembley in two months after being here for the Euro final on July 31, and it’s clear that England fans have fallen in love with their Lionesses and the importance of this occasion. A culture change has happened this year in England, and there’s no way it’s turning back now. Walking down a packed Wembley Way to the stadium was a tremendously fun experience; the FA had posted banners for each of their European champion players, and as opposed to the men’s Euro final here in 2021, you knew there wouldn’t be any arrests of belligerent fans causing mayhem. This year has been huge for crowds globally in women’s soccer, from the 90,000-plus outpourings on two occasions for Barcelona to attendance records being set in Morocco, Colombia and other nations. The women’s game is going places in a lot of place now, and that momentum will only keep growing.
Through-balls: With Mal Pugh out, it made sense that Megan Rapinoe started, but you can see why she has become a 30-minute player for the USWNT this year … 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson made her debut, coming on for Rapinoe, and that’s a pretty cool moment to have for your debut … I love the little things Sophia Smith does, and she’s a menace in front of goal. Her star is only rising … I found myself asking where Rose Lavelle was for much of this game … Hailie Mace came in for an injured Emily Fox at left back and got a rude introduction, committing a penalty in the first half and struggling at times. I know Crystal Dunn is just coming back, but I was a bit surprised she didn’t come in instead of Mace. Dunn eventually came on midway through the second half … Man, Trinity Rodman has a great motor, including on defense … The England fans really don’t like Rapinoe. They booed her before every corner kick she took.
What are your thoughts on the game? You can join the discussion in the comments below.