“Stay humble. We’ve got one more,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis told her charges after the game.
Actually, humble might not exactly be the word the English or any other opponent in this World Cup would use to describe this U.S. team. They’ve been preening in every form imaginable after each goal since opening the tournament with a 13-0 rout of Thailand.
But, hey, if you can back it up, why not?
Yes, Morgan’s extended pinky probably ensured the U.S. team wouldn’t be meeting with the Queen anytime soon. But this is a team that didn’t even blink after Rapinoe, its co-captain, caused a stir back home by saying she wouldn’t go to the White House with the current occupant there either.
Nothing seems to faze this group of Americans. Not even a fight with their own federation, which they are suing over equal pay with the men.
Certainly not a semifinal match they had to win without their star player to get to the championship.
“They’re vetted in pressure. You saw that tonight,” Ellis said. “It’s the World Cup finals. It’s not Sunday soccer.”
It was Ellis who set the Twitter world abuzz with a lineup that didn’t include the pink-haired Rapinoe, who scored every goal for the U.S. in its last two games. Turns out Rapinoe had a slight hamstring strain, but her replacement, Christen Press, was healthy enough to score the first U.S. goal on a first-half header.
That would ordinarily be enough theater for one match, but there was more. With the U.S. clinging to a 2-1 lead, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher — who made a nice fingertip save in the first half — stopped a penalty kick in the 84th minute by Steph Houghton, diving to her right and smothering England’s last real chance.
It was a seminal moment for Naeher, who had been compared unfavorably by some with Hope Solo, goalkeeper for the last three World Cup teams. And it came with lots of praise from her teammates, who mobbed her near the goal when the match ended.
“She saved our ass,” Morgan said.
It was Morgan, though, who made sure it counted. She celebrated her 30th birthday and gave her country a chance to celebrate its own a few days early with a header that put the U.S. ahead in the 31st minute.
That was all the scoring either team would do, though the second half was still mesmerizing. England lost a goal to a video replay that revealed offsides, then got a penalty kick try because of the same VAR before a red card late pretty much sealed the underdog’s fate.
All with Rapinoe cheering from the sidelines, confident her teammates would not let her down.
“We talked a lot about the depth we had and this was the moment when you need to display it,” Rapinoe said. “Everyone stepped up, they were not afraid of the moment.”
The moment won’t get to this team on Sunday, either, whether against the Netherlands or Sweden, who meet Wednesday in the other semifinal. Expect Rapinoe to be back, and expect the U.S. to finish this off for its second straight title and fourth in eight World Cups.
They’re that confident. And they’re that good.
“We are not here for lawsuits. Not for silly, trumped up things,” Ellis said. “We are here for one thing. And that’s to win the trophy.”
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg