So soccer isn't your cup of tea? Well, I've got a game that
should change your opinion.
From an hour before the game with the U.S. lineup announcement until the seven minutes of stoppage time in second half, Tuesday's USA-England match oozed with drama.
In the first half, both teams sliced through the other as though, England coach Phil Neville said later, the defenders were mannequins. In the second half, the game descended into a street brawl, both teams getting stuck in and both teams lucky, frankly, no one got hurt.
The USA led, 2-1, at the break, and two VAR calls, one (missed) penalty kick and one red card later it was still 2-1, sending the Americans to the Women's World Cup final for the third straight time.
The 2019 knockout stage has produced its share of nail-biters. France-Brazil. France-USA. Netherlands-Japan. On Tuesday, USA-England at the Groupama Stadium easily topped them all.
“It was the most enthralling 90 minutes I’ve been involved in as a manager," said Neville.
Like all great soccer games, the USA-England semifinal was full of surprises and unlikely heroes. None greater than the lineup announcement that Megan Rapinoe, the most talked about player of this or any Women's World Cup, wasn't starting. And no one greater than Christen Press, who started in place of Rapinoe, who was nursing a slightly strained hamstring.
The recent history of the women's national team has been that of forced lineup changes working in its favor, and they did again on Tuesday as Press had the game of her life.
As she wrote in the column she did for Soccer America for three years while playing in Sweden, Press' early years were spent trying "to ignore the soft whispers of self-doubt that grow louder as every scoreless minute passes."
She was something of a late bloomer, debuting on the national team three years into her pro career that began with magicJack in WPS. She has had quite an international career for herself, amassing 121 caps and 48 goals heading into Tuesday night, but she couldn't shake the reputation for struggling on big occasions.
That changed Tuesday night in Lyon when Press made everyone ask, Megan who?
The USA has gotten off to fast starts in every game, usually capitalizing on sloppy defending, but it played its best soccer of the tournament for the first 30 minutes of Tuesday's semifinal, making Neville's defenders -- no slouches -- look like -- well -- mannequins.
Kelley O'Hara set up Press, her former Stanford teammate, for the first goal but not before Tobin Heath played a dummy pass through Rose Lavelle. O'Hara's long cross from the right wing found Press open at the far post, where she headed the ball inside the post. Press then pointed to the sky, a nod to her mother, Stacy, who died at the age of 58 in January.
“I was thinking of my mom,” Press, in tears, said after the game. “My whole career I played for my mom.”
England tied the score on Ellen White's sixth goal of the tournament, but the USA went back ahead in the 31st minute when Alex Morgan, celebrating her 30th birthday, matched White for the tournament scoring lead, coming flying out of nowhere to meet Lindsey Horan's centering pass that split the England central defense with a header for the go-ahead goal.
Once again, Press played a pivotal role, taking Abby Dahlkemper's long pass on the left side, stretching the England backline and calmly slipping the ball to the open Horan.
“The most proud moments I’ve had in my career are after failures when you kind of learn the sun also rises and that the world keeps spinning when you fail and when you succeed,” said Press, who missed her penalty kick in the shootout loss to Sweden in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals. “That has built for me a steadiness, a calmness. And the World Cup is crazy, it’s intense, it’s emotional and for me, that doesn’t serve the way I play well. So I’ve tried to create like a steadiness through it.”
Press' work wasn't done, though. She was all over the field, starting out on the left wing, pinning down England star Lucy Bronze, who lost her on the first goal, but later taking up a more central role in the attack and then moving into midfield late in the second half as the USA desperately tried to protect its lead.
“I felt like a little bit surreal,” Press said. “Like the whole moment was surreal. I think the game was so intense, it was so much defending, it was emotional, back and forth. I think it feels a little bit like I was watching from afar.”
Photo: Frederic Chambert/Panoramic/Icon Sportswire