The United States women’s national team knew the storylines ahead of this Women’s World Cup quarterfinal match against hosts France in Paris.
Would Jill Ellis react to an uninspiring performance from her Starting XI against Spain?
How would Megan Rapinoe react after making national headlines regarding a potential post-championship White House boycott?
And could Crystal Dunn cope with the threats presented by the French attack?
It’s no surprise that all three things are our three things following a 2-1 defeat of France.
Bring on England.
Headline-drawing iconoclast Rapinoe delivers above the fold performance
Whether she’s just a genius at compartmentalization or she thrives off drama, Megan Rapinoe appreciates Friday’s stage like few others.
The winger who infamously said she wouldn’t be going to the White House if the Yanks won the tournament scored twice for the second-straight match, and remarkably has four goals in two matches despite (arguably) not being near her best.
Jill Ellis said this team breathes easy under duress because they are always under pressure, and Rapinoe got the job done faster than Twitter fingers could tatter out a, “Guess you won’t be invited to the White House,” she had the U.S. on the board with a spinning free kick through traffic.
But Rapinoe’s second goal of the day was the one to note, as she zipped onto Tobin Heath’s cross to the center of the box and clinically banged home a second goal.
You don’t have to love Rapinoe’s politics, but the USWNT’s iconoclast just keeps delivering despite being on the verge of her 34th birthday. That’ll come two days before the final.
Dunn doesn’t blink, just keeps working
There’s a challenge in describing the performance of USWNT left back Crystal Dunn, who was far from perfect on the day.
That’s because she was tactically targeted by France. Everyone knew it was coming, with French star Kadidiatou Diani giving her the proverbial business all match long.
“We knew the host country has so much to play for and they’re a top world class team,” Dunn said on Fox after the game. “It wasn’t pretty a lot of the time, but we just had to get the job done. If we are to hoist the trophy, no one’s gonna remember how we played, we’re just going to remember that we fought it out and we won.”
The fact that the perceived weak link rose up and put in a high quality shift will not be forgotten by her teammates or future opponents. Dunn was beaten several times, but recovered nearly every time and didn’t show any signs of fatigue.
That’s good, because England is going to come at her with a different kind of challenge. After Friday, it’s difficult to doubt Dunn.
Ellis’ mad scientist stuff proves successful
Ellis made two moves that really raised eyebrows, leeping Lindsey Horan out of the lineup at center midfield and keeping a scoring-but-underwhelming Megan Rapinoe at left wing when many expected the fresh legs of Christen Press to make an appearance.
The result is a win, so yeah it’s a success, but there’s a question of whether that was despite the plan.
Ellis made a decision to cede possession in the midfield and France couldn’t make much happen until the final half hour. Horan is an absolute machine in the center of the park, but Ellis opted for Lavelle’s lighter touch and counted on Ertz and Mewis to do a bit more (which most teams can’t do because, well, they don’t have Julie Ertz).
“This team just showed so much grit and so much heart,” remarked Alex Morgan, another player to fight form the past few matches. “We weathered a couple storms during the match. We wound down the clock really well at the end.”
We mentioned Rapinoe delivering her two goals above, and she was very good early. That button was the right one to push for sure, though Ellis waiting a bit long in pulling the California native from the match.
Will we see the same 11 against Nikita Parris, Lucy Bronze, Ellen White, and England? That would be a risk, and it would take brass-coated guts for Ellis to keep Horan out of the lineup again.