Christen Press celebrates her first World Cup goal. (Michael Chow — USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
LYON, France — No Megan?
Even without its high-scoring captain Megan Rapinoe the United States is one tough side to beat.
Just ask England, which became the latest victim of the Americans at the Women’s World Cup at Stade de Lyon Tuesday.
Surprise starter Christen Press and Alex Morgan stepped up to score goals and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher made a gave-saving stop on Ellen White’s penalty kick in the 84th minute for the defending champions in a 2-1 semifinal win before 53,512. More than 20,000 American fans were expected to help fill the stadium.
The three-time champion Americans, who reached their fifth final in eight tournaments, will play the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between the Netherlands and Sweden in Sunday’s final here Sunday.
With the USA clinging to the lead, Video Assistant Referee ruled that center back Becky Sauerbrunn had made contact with captain Steph Houghton in the box. England was awarded a penalty kick that Naeher dove to her right to catch and hold onto.
Both teams made some significant Starting XI changes due to injuries.
Rapinoe, who had scored all four of the goals for the USA in the knockout round, was replaced in the lineup by Press. It was not exactly known what the injury was. A U.S. Soccer spokesperson said that head coach Jill Ellis would address Rapinoe’s situation after the match.
For England, regular goalkeeper Karen Bardsley wound up on the bench due to an injury. She was replaced by Carly Telford, who hadn’t played a minute in the World Cup.
The Americans continued their amazing streak of scoring in the opening 15 minutes of a match by striking first in the 10th minute.
Right back Kelley O’Hara, on an overlap, lofted a cross to the opposite end of the penalty area, where Press headed home from seven yards to the near post for her first goal of the tournament.
It did not take that long for England to equalize behind Ellen White’s sixth goal of the tournament in the 19th minute as she stuck her foot out to flip Beth Mead’s left-wing cross past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher for a 1-1 deadlock.
Alex Morgan, who hadn’t found the net since she connected for a WWC record-tying five goals in the 13-0 opening rout of Thailand, finally found the range to snap the tie in the 31st minute.
This time Horan sent in a cross from the left side that an onrushing Morgan headed home from eight yards for a 2-1 advantage to celebrate her 30th birthday Tuesday. The USA fans chanted the Happy Birthday song to mark the occasion.
Naeher, who hadn’t been called on for many, if any big saves in the tourney, produced one for the USA in the 33rd minute. Keira Walsh unleashed a shot from distance, forcing Naeher to make a two-handed save.
The USA dodged a giant-sized bullet in the 68th minute when it appeared White had tallied her second goal, only to have it nullified by the Video Assistant Referee for an offside call in which she had to be only inches on the wrong side of the ball.