At the end of a “heartbreaking” week that began with a revelation of abuse and trauma re-activation, and a night that began with it statements against sexual violence and racism, then a minute’s silence for a tragedy, it would be easy, perhaps even appropriate, to forget that there is joy in sport.
It would have been easy to see and hear Becky Sauerbrunn speak and read about the “terrible” things powerful men have done to wonderfully talented women and feel down.
But then, at 8pm in London on Friday, with 76,893 fans in attendance and millions more on TV, the USA and England women’s national teams played a football match and all was momentarily forgotten – or rather, remembered.
“I want to remind everyone,” Lindsey Horan said earlier this week after a round of questions about the Yates report, “that this game is so incredibly cool.”
A few days later, she and two dozen others—with their feet and their wits and their dexterity—explained why.
The game ended 2-1 for England and brought a 21-game American unbeaten streak. Without a video recap, it would have been 2-1 for USA, but the result didn’t really matter. “It’s not really an important game,” US head coach Vlatko Andonovski said on Thursday. “But… it’s a good show,” he said, and a “statement in women’s sport.”
And what a show it was. England have been adept and progressive and have shown very clearly that they will challenge the US for global dominance next summer. The USWNT was consistently dangerous even without half of their first choice starters and, despite being second best, very combat ready.
The lionesses scored first. US central defender Alana Cook made a mistake. And Beth Mead made them pay like world-class teams do.
But Sophia Smith, who played as No9 in the absence of Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh and Catarina Macario, responded.
Smith, who at 22 is both the future and present of USWNT, was excellent all evening, even in an unnatural position. England couldn’t handle their speed and sharpness.
But the hosts more than lived up to the occasion. They managed a strong American midfield, controlled some early stages of the game and dominated possession.
They regained the lead later in the first half with a penalty awarded after a light smack from a tall boot in Lucy Bronze’s face.
USA equalized shortly after, only to have an exquisite break – led by Smith, made by Megan Rapinoe and ended by Trinity Rodman – which was nullified by an unseen call for offside.
The first half was continuous. It was brilliant entertainment. The second half was a bit more restrained, but still full of quality.
It was all wonderful publicity for the sport and worth the price of admission to the record-breaking crowd – by far the most for a friendly by either team and the third-highest for a USWNT game ever – who paid for it in less than 24 hours.
“The level of football right now is just insane,” Rapinoe said of women’s football around the world on Thursday. Friday’s game proved their point.
And there was no reason to worry about the USWNT’s chances of a World Cup triumph in 2023. It was cause for celebration.
Oh, and it was a refresher. “Of course it was an extremely difficult week for everyone,” said Andonovski. “I’m proud that the players are even on the field to play this game. … I salute their courage, their fearless mentality and their relentlessness. They have shown once again that nothing can stop them from playing the game the way they love it.”