After a heartbreaking week which started with a exposure of abuse and re-triggering of traumaand a night that started with statements against sexual violence and racism, then a minute of silence for a the tragedyit would have been easy, perhaps even appropriate, to forget that there is joy in sport.
It would have been easy to see and hear about Becky Sauerbrunnand to read about the “horrible” things powerful men have done to wonderfully talented womenand feel discouraged.
But then, at 8 p.m. in London on Friday, with 76,893 fans watching in person and millions more on television, the United States and England women’s national teams played a game of football, and everything was momentarily forgotten – or rather remembered.
“I want to remind everyone,” Lindsey Horan said earlier in the week, after a series of questions about the Yates Report“that this game is incredibly cool.”
A few days later, she and two dozen other people explained – with their feet, their brains and their skills – why.
The game ended 2–1 against England and ended a 21-game American unbeaten streak. Without video review, it would have been 2-1 for the United States. But the result didn’t really matter. “It’s not really an important game,” USA 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 sight it was. England have been skilful and progressive, and have amply proven that they will challenge the United States for world supremacy next summer. The USWNT, even without half of its first-choice starters, was still dangerous and, although second, fully ready for battle.
The Lionesses scored first. American central defender Alana Cook made a mistake. And Beth Mead made it pay, as world-class teams tend to do.
But Sophia Smith, playing as No. 9 in the absence of Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh and Catarina Macario, responded.
Smith, who at 22 is both the future and the present of the USWNT, was excellent all night, even in an unnatural position. England could not cope with his speed and liveliness.
But the hosts more than faced the occasion. They managed a solid American midfield, controlled some early stages of play and led possession.
They took the lead again later in the first half from a penalty, awarded after a light high kick to the face from Lucy Bronze.
USA equalized soon after, only to have an exquisite break – led by Smith, made by Megan Rapinoe and finished by Trinity Rodman – nullified by an unseen offside call.
The first half was from start to finish. It was awesome entertainment. The second half was a little more subdued, but still full of quality.
It was a wonderful advertisement for the sport, and well worth the price of admission for the record crowd – by far the most for a friendly game played by either team, and third for a USWNT game of all the time – who paid in less than 24 hours.
“The level of football right now is just insane,” Rapinoe said of the Women’s World Match on Thursday. Friday’s game proved his point.
And that was no reason to worry about the USWNT’s chances of securing a World Cup hat-trick in 2023. It was a reason to celebrate.
Oh, and that was an encore. “Obviously it’s been an extremely difficult week for everyone,” Andonovski said. “I’m proud that the players are even on the pitch to play this game. … I applaud their bravery, their fearless mentality and their tenacity. Once again, they have shown that nothing can stop them from playing the game that they love.”