In the pursuit for sporting success, an athlete can find themselves committing to any number
Sweden 2-1 England, in brief:
Can you believe it's over? A month of chaos, discourse, bold lips, VAR, golazos and ecstasy, all coming to a close. Before the final on Sunday, there was the third place match, where a bruised but tireless Sweden outlasted England to finish in the bronze medal spot. Despite the loss, the Lionesses return to England as heroes, with Lucy Bronze deservedly winning the Silver Ball as the second-best player in the tournament (some would argue she perhaps deserved the Golden Ball, and those people would maybe not be wrong?).
A generation of Swedish talent that helped define this team and this sport – Nilla Fischer, Caroline Seger, Hedvig Lindahl – end their run in the World Cup with a final bow and make way for present and future stars like Stina Blackstenius and Lina Hurtig. Both Sweden and England will continue to be formidable footballing nations, leaving the USWNT's hopes of a three-peat certainly in doubt – and to be clear, that is a good thing.
- Who Is This Even For: Just hear me out: do we even need a third place match? I get the sense that the players who participate in it don't really want to be there – they're exhausted, they've just missed out on glory in a heartbreaker, they've given it all and wept and watched Kosovare Asllani get stretchered off. All three goals in this match, while each lovely in their own light, came as the result of big defensive errors. It's fun to watch two of the strongest teams in the tournament play one more time, and there's money and scouting and play for the badge and pride whatnot on the line, but if the stakes are lower and the players are exhausted, then maybe we skip this one?
- The Unbreakable Kosse Asllani: I've gone on and on about the talent and mettle of Kosovare Asllani, and since she scored a goal, I have an excuse to do so one more time. After getting absolutely battered in the semifinal and appearing to end her time at the World Cup in a stretcher, Kosse Asllani returned to start for Sweden and capitalized on a defensive error to open the scoring.
THE FINAL: USA 2-0 Netherlands
The #TourdeFour ends with, well, a fourth, and as the euphoria of watching the USWNT nab back-to-back championships and spray each other with champagne while listening to Migos begins to die down, we reflect on a hard-fought, wild final.
Under an electric atmosphere in Lyon, a chaotic, tense, and sometimes bloody first half ensued as players went down left and right, a head bandage joined rolled-up sleeves on the list of Becky Sauerbrunn’s World Cup Final Accessories and Kelley O'Hara did not return after halftime.
Even into the beginning of the second half, the momentum looked as though it was with the Oranje, as the lightning-quick combo of Lineth Beerensteyn and Vivianne Miedema gave Alyssa Naeher and company some scares, and a few solid USWNT chances couldn't seem to get past the vigilant watch of Sari van Veenendaal. Fortune struck in the 61st minute in the form of a penalty opportunity, which Megan Rapinoe struck effortlessly to give the US supporters some room to breathe. Eight minutes later, Rose Lavelle made a run into perfect space and a beautiful, clean left-footed strike to double the lead, and an all-attack-minded Shanice van de Sanden introduction couldn't save it for the Dutch.
There will be a lot written and tweeted and commentated about this match, discourse on whether the USWNT won this title with the guidance of Jill Ellis or in spite of it, questions about why so many players who were struggling with injuries stayed in while a healthy Lindsey Horan remained on the bench in critical matches. Or maybe we won’t talk about these things, because it's over, and they won.
We should keep talking about this team, and about the Oranje, and about the brilliance and joy that came through on the pitch in every appearance. I hope this Netherlands squad continues to be the gifted, captivating extravaganza they've grown into being. I hope we keep talking about Vivianne Miedema, the 22-year-old graduate of the Lionel Messi School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, already elite and with miles to go in a storied career. I hope we keep talking about Crystal Dunn, out here playing a veritable Swiss Army Knife of roles, rock-steady even as so many (present company included) were skeptical of her positioning in the back four. I hope there are even more new names and more new faces on the USWNT and the 23 other squads that were in this tournament to learn and celebrate in the years to come.
I hope we keep talking about what these players deserve, beyond the matter of Equal Pay for one particular team, but about development of and investment in domestic leagues, about investing in coaching so we don't all have to spend an entire tournament yelling at Jill Ellis on Twitter again or even worse, getting stuck with this guy. I hope we show up for the Nigerian National Team next time their players stage a sit-in over the wages they deserve. I hope we can pressure locally to move beyond the gross "pay to play" model which contributes to so much racial, gender, and socioeconomic inequity in the development of the Beautiful Game in this country. I hope we can all find reasons to celebrate, loudly and soaked in champagne or otherwise, at even more triumphs ahead. LFG.
- Rose Lavelle, again: With one soaring touch of her left foot, Rose Lavelle staked her claim as the breakout star of this tournament. I know this because all of my friends who don't usually watch soccer were texting after that goal to ask "Who is she???" Lavelle expanded upon a tournament of strong performances with a hell of an encore. She also plays for the Washington Spirit, who need I remind you are Actually Good this year, and will now be even better.
- Julie Ertz: Like a good neighbor, Julie Ertz is there. She's won a World Cup in the back four, and now another as a defensive mid. She helped spur the attack today with the first really dangerous chance that kept Sari van Veenendaal on her toes, and always seemed to be exactly where she needed to be to address the most urgent needs on the pitch. Like a really good bassist in a band, she has great control over the rhythm of things but doesn'tt always get the love she deserves. This metaphor also works given her air-guitaring with the trophy.
- Sari van Veenendaal, again: The Golden Glove was well deserved. Things could have gone a lot worse for the Oranje, especially in the first half, when the US midfield combined for a number of chances. But van Veenendaal was there, making focused, acrobatic saves that frustrated the USWNT attack.
- Forgive the sleepaway camp parlance, but the Netherlands' supporters definitely won the Spirit Award today. Could hear their chants loud and clear the entire match, and good on them for staying to cheer on their squad even after the loss.
- Some days you're Ashlyn Harris filming all your friends getting wasted and rowdy, and some days you're that brief glimpse of Alyssa Naeher side-eyeing everyone and wondering when the whole thing is going to be over so you can go to bed. Sometimes you are both. We all contain multitudes.
- In the post-game bliss-out haze, we almost forgot about Kelley O'Hara, who came into the first half like a wrecking ball, gave it her everything, left at halftime after a nasty collision, and celebrated by kissing her girlfriend in the stands, and oh, just read Kim McCauley's piece about it, it's much better than anything I could say about it here. (Also, don't search Kelley O’Hara's name on Twitter right now unless you want to put yourself to sleep with Flag Treatment Discourse.)
You watch the NWSL. You watch the domestic league in whatever country you live in. We keep on building the sport. We keep talking about inequity, locally and globally, and holding the institutions that fail the women's game accountable. We keep sending that Alex Morgan tea-sipping GIF in every possible group chat.
It's been an absolute pleasure going on this ride with all of you. I'll be back later in the week with some post-mortem reflections. Thanks for reading.
Filed under: team usa; team netherlands; soccer; 2019 women's world cup; team sweden; team england; rose lavelle; kosovare asllani; julie ertz; sari van veenendaal; kelley o'hara; megan rapinoe
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