LYON — NHL fans fell in love with a Bunch of Jerks in the Carolina Hurricanes this season, perhaps the same can happen at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup with the United States.
The Americans are playing the role of bad guys at the tournament, but are definitely the best team in it, and proved it again Tuesday defeating England 2-1 in a thrilling semifinal in front of 53,512 at the Stade de Lyon.
Loud, proud and undeniably talented, the United States beat England without their best player as Megan Rapinoe sat out the game with a hamstring injury.
Rapinoe’s replacement, Christen Press, scored the opening goal for the United States and Alex Morgan, who is relishing playing the heel, added the winner and then promptly poked fun of her opponent with a pinky-up, tea-sipping celebration.
“I was just thinking of all the noise in the background and fact that this team has persevered through so much, not taking the easy route through this World Cup,” Morgan said of her celebration. “We’ve played quite a difficult path through to the World Cup final, so it was just a little pinkies up.”
Ellen White, who had an outstanding game up front, scored the lone goal for England while having another ruled out for offside. She was also awarded a penalty in the second half by Video Assistant Referee after the slightest of touches from defender Becky Sauerbrunn prevented her from tying the game.
Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher stopped England captain Steph Houghton on the penalty attempt with just over 10 minutes left to preserve the victory for the United States and move on to its second consecutive Women’s World Cup final.
“I just tried to get a good read on it,” Naeher said. “I just tried to take a few good breaths and focus on the ball, focus on the play and let instincts take over from there.”
The United States will play the winner of the Sweden-Netherlands semifinal here Wednesday. The final is at the Stade de Lyon on Sunday.
England was eliminated in the semifinal for a third consecutive major tournament. They lost at the same stage four years ago 2-1 to Japan in Edmonton, and also fell in the semifinal of the European Championships in 2017.
“It’s disappointing falling short and not making it to the final, because we haven’t quite made it there,” England fullback Lucy Bronze said. “The fact that we’re consistently in the semifinal shows how consistent this team and the strengths of this team. We have so much ahead of us and I know for a fact that we’re going to win a trophy at some point.”
The United States, who were heavily criticized in the British press for its arrogance, despite winning three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals, stormed out of the gate looking to put the game away early.
Midfielder Rose Lavelle was outstanding for the United States and created the first good chance by putting the ball through the legs of England defender Millie Bright on the end line, waltzing around her and firing a shot, forcing an excellent save out of goalkeeper Carly Telford.
Lavelle was the Americans best player in the early part of the first half and England had trouble handling her speed and dribbling ability.
Lavelle is smart too. She let the ball run between her legs sending Kelley O’Hara through down the right side. O’Hara sent a cross into the box that Press headed in past Telford to give the United States a 1-0 lead, 10 minutes into the contest.
The United States has scored inside the first 12 minutes in every game they have played at this tournament.
Press had been a surprise addition to the starting lineup in place of Rapinoe, who had scored the past four goals for the United States helping them defeat Spain in the second round and host France in the quarterfinal.
“I think it was a battle until the end and credit to them, England gave us a great game,” Lavelle said. “The strength of this team is that we have a lot of depth. I don’t feel like we missed a beat or batted an eyelash at (Rapinoe’s absence). Pinoe is a great player we love when she’s on the field, but we have every confidence that whoever steps on the field is going to be able to fill that role.”
Rapinoe’s omission came as a surprise and when she did not partake in the pre-game warm-up it was assumed she was out with an injury. Rapinoe later confirmed she had a slight hamstring strain, but does expect to be ready for the final.
The United States kept up the pressure after going ahead, but it was England who scored as White turned in a cross on the half-volley off a cross from Beth Mead.
England settled down after the goal and began to keep possession. Both teams generated chances throughout the rest of the match.
Morgan made her chance count in the 31st minute when she headed in a cross from Tobin Heath. Morgan celebrated by pretending to sip a cup a tea, a comeback to the English press.
Seconds after Morgan’s goal, White fired a long-range shot forcing Naeher to make an outstanding fingertip save on a ball heading for the top corner. The save was Naeher’s biggest of the game until she stopped Houghton on the penalty.
“They came down and had a good look and we know they’re a team that likes to shoot from distance,” Naeher said. “I was able to get a good read on it and a good touch.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
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