A sight very familiar to fans of Stanford women’s soccer helped lift the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) over England in the semifinal by 2-1. Kelley O’Hara ‘09 found the head of Christen Press ‘10 in the tenth minute to open the scoring for the Americans.
Megan Rapinoe, who scored twice in the quarterfinal victory over France but asked to be substituted late in the game, was held out of the starting lineup against the Lionesses with a hamstring injury. In her stead, Press was inserted on the wing by head coach Jill Ellis.
“We prepare for four years for these very small and short shooting star moments and I knew I was ready,” Press said. “It’s obvious there’s no filling Megan Rapinoe’s shoes and it was important for me to not try to do that.”
The goal was the first of the tournament for Press, who was starting her second game.
“I’ve said this: I have multiple starters in multiple positions,” Ellis said. “I knew and trusted she was ready for the moment because that’s what I’ve seen in the past, and her training focus has been fantastic.”
England equalized in the 19th minute on Ellen White’s sixth goal of the tournament. The USWNT responded 12 minutes later to retake the lead
On the second goal, a lofted ball from Lindsey Horan that was headed home by Alex Morgan, the birthday celebrant emphasized her goal with a sip of tea. With one game remaining for both White and Morgan, the pair are tied atop the leaderboard for Golden Boot, with Morgan leading in the tiebreaker for assists. Rapinoe is one behind with five.
Despite the Golden Boot drama, more ensuing attention has been paid to Morgan’s choice of celebration.
“We’re not remiss to notice that the criticism and the attention is quite different than it is from the men,” Press said.
With her celebration, on the other hand, Press chose to point to the sky.
“I was thinking of my mom,” said Press, whose mother, Stacy, passed away earlier this year. “I think my whole career I played for my mom.”
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) intervened twice, first to disallow a potential equalizer for England due to an offsides. Ten minutes later, a scrum in the box left Alyssa Naeher slow to get up. Carli Lloyd then entered the match, replacing Tobin Heath. Only then did VAR award the Lionesses a penalty kick, which was taken by Steph Houghton in the 84th minute. Naeher was up to the task, not only guessing correctly on Houghton’s shot, but securing the ball to prevent a rebound.
“Oh my God, Alyssa played absolutely out of her mind, but that is what she does day in and day out,” O’Hara said. “I’m proud the world finally got to see that. She proved she’s the best in the world, surely.”
After VAR giveth, and taketh away, the Americans stalled out the remaining six minutes of regular time and seven minutes of added time.
“We still have that grittiness and that heart that this team has always had, but we’ve added a lot of technical and tactical experience, and it’s pretty cool to see it all come together on this stage,” O’Hara said.
An official attendance of 53,512 was on hand in Lyon to watch the semifinal. The venue will also be the host for Sunday’s final against the Netherlands at 8:00 a.m. PT.
With reports that Rapinoe will be healthy for the final, Press may once again be coming off the bench. Press is one of just five Americans to have appeared in all six games.
“Whatever role I’m given on the finals I’m gonna be ready,” Press said. “Whatever the team needs we’re here to deliver and to win the World Cup, that’s the only thing that matters.
“Over the course of my career I’ve been privileged to play alongside Megan and I think that she’s a warrior on the field, she’s a very special player and she always has been,” Press said. “It’s been beautiful to see her fearlessness as we get to the highest stages that she won’t back away, she doesn’t shy away – instead it’s the opposite. And that’s something that, as an athlete, is incredible and as a human even more so.”
Just four years after playing in its first World Cup, the Netherlands will be playing in its first championship. The USWNT, on the other hand, will appear in its third consecutive final and fifth overall.
“There’s no way you can’t be confident when you step on the field and look around,” O’Hara said. “I step out there and I have that confidence knowing that I’m stepping out with all of these other amazing players next to me.”
The sentiment was shared by Press.
“What takes us through the game against the Netherlands is the same determination and focus, we’re a team on a mission,” Press said. “I’ve been so blown away by the resilience and the grit of my teammates.”
Though Sunday marks the conclusion of the World Cup, the entire 23-player roster plays stateside in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), including two Stanford players on Utah Royals FC. It was just announced that ESPN will carry NWSL games on its networks.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.