Sophia Smith found the net again for the USA. (Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
A relatively young U.S. women’s national team was given a preview what it will encounter in either New Zealand or Australia next summer.
A packed stadium with rabid fans.
Calls that didn’t always go their way, including a goal taken away due to a controversial offside call.
And against one of the top teams on the planet.
Clashing with the fifth-ranked world, the No. 1 USA dropped its first match in 14 games, a 2-1 decision to England before a sellout crowd of around 90,000 at Wembley in London.
It was a clash of the champions.
The USA are the reigning Women’s World Cup winners, capturing the title in 2019. England secured the European crown this past summer. In fact, prior to the match, the English team brought out the UEFA trophy to remind the capacity crowd of what was accomplished.
The loss snapped the USA’s 13-game winning streak. It also was head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s third loss since taking over as coach in 2019. His record is 41-3-6.
The Americans had several veterans in the Starting XI, including Alyssa Naeher, Lindsey Horan, the captain, Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle, key performers at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. The lineup included several players who hadn’t played in big-time international contests, including Sophia Smith, who tallied the U.S.’s lone goal, Alana Cook, Trinity Rodham, Sofia Huerta, Naomi Girma and Emily Fox.
This certainly was not a usual friendly for several reasons.
Besides pitting the world champion USA and European champs England against one another, there were plenty of symbolic gestures, given the fallout of the Sally Q. Yates report that was released earlier this week, which detailed verbal abuse and sexual misconduct in the National Women’s Soccer League and even in youth soccer.
Prior to kickoff, the players from both teams got together for a photo opportunity beyond a banner that said, Protect The Players.
Players on both teams wore teal armbands. Teal is the color to support sexual abuse and violence supporters. And both teams took a knee just before Horan kicked off, in a show of solidarity.
It was a game of two halves. The opening 45 minutes was an entertaining affair with several close encounters and three goals. The second stanza had action, but it was nowhere near as dramatic.
It didn’t take England long to celebrate its first goal as the hosts ran through the American midfield and eventually the defense before Lauren Hemp scored off a relatively easy tap-in past goalkeeper Naeher.
It was the first time the USA trailed in 22 games, or since the semifinal loss in the Tokyo Olympics last year.
England won the battle of the midfields in the opening half. In fact, the USA lost the ball several times at midfield, allowing the hosts a chance to make a fast counterattack toward the net.
The Americans had a handful of scoring opportunities. A little more than a minute after the opening kickoff, Sophia Sofia motored down the left flank and fired a shot that goalkeeper Mary Earps snared.
The visitors lost outside back Fox to an injury after a collision with a England’s Georgia Stanway and Hailie Mace replaced her in the 22nd minute.
Smith was much more successful in the 28th minute when Horan stole the ball from an England player in the attacking third and shuffled off a pass to Smith. Smith then powered a shot from atop the area into the lower left corner for a 1-1 tie.
It didn’t take long for England retake the lead in the 34th minute. Mace was called for a high kick in the penalty area. After checking VAR, the referee awarded England a penalty kick. Stanway converted into the lower right corner as Naeher dove in the opposite direction.
It appeared the USA had equalized in the 36th minute as Smith put the ball into the back of the net after some nifty passing by the visitors. Alana Cook started the sequence with a long pass out of the back that found Smith. Smith raced down the right flank before crossing into the middle as Megan Rapinoe pulled a defender away. Trinity Rodman then slotted the ball home from eight yards.
Two minutes later, however, the referee ruled no goal for an apparent offside by Smith at the start of the play at midfield, much to the chagrin of Andonovski.
With time running out, at first it appeared that the Americans might be awarded a penalty kick after a Rose Lavelle shot supposedly high Hemp’s arm in the box. VAR ensued and it was easily determined that the ball bounded off Hemp’s rear end as she turned away to block the attempt.
Rockville Centre, N.Y. native Crystal Dunn, who had been on maternity leave, came on for Sofia Huerta in the 63rd minute.
Alyssa Thompson, a high school senior who is 17 years, 335 days, made her international debut in the 84thh minute, replacing Rapinoe. She became the 70th teenager to earn a cap for the USWNT and the youngest player to debut for the USA since January 2016 when Mallory Pugh made her debut at 17 years and 269 days.