In the biggest tournament and in the biggest game you need your best players to step up when called upon.
During their run to the final of the 2019 women’s World Cup, that’s exactly what the U.S. women’s national team got.
With one game left for all the marbles against the defending European champions Netherlands, the U.S. will need their stars to produce another magical performance.
After a dominating group stage, where the U.S. won all three games, scoring 18 goals and conceding zero, the level of competition has gone up a notch in the knockout stage.
After defeating Spain in the round of 16, where star forward Megan Rapione scored two goals, the United States had, arguably, their toughest test of the tournament: tournament hosts France.
Once again, Rapione shined brightest in the biggest game, scoring two goals and helping her side advance to the semifinals against England. After virtually carrying her team to that point in the knockout stage, Rapione was forced to miss the clash with England because of a hamstring injury, opening up the door for other stars to contribute.
In the absence of Rapione those stars who stepped up were, forward Christen Press, who scored the first goal against England, forward Alex Morgan, who scored the second goal and giving the U.S. back the lead and Chicago Red Stars goalie Alyssa Naeher, who saved a penalty in the second half which kept the U.S. up 2-1.
Along with Rapione, Morgan and Press, there have been multiple Chicago Red Stars players that have been vital to the success, including Naeher. Midfielders Julie Ertz, Lindsay Horan and Rose Lavelle have been the backbone of this team, helping out on defense and then starting up the attack for the United States.
After knocking out three strong opponents, the U.S. will face another pesky and strong team in the Dutch. The Netherlands, just two years ago, won the European Championship on home soil. Two years later, the Dutch look to capture the entire world by defeating the most dominant and strongest team in all of women’s soccer.
While the play on the field has captured the hearts and eyes of the many, the people that have followed the Dutch to this year’s World Cup has been just as spectacular. The “Orange Army” as they are called have been out in droves around France and following their team around, now meeting them at the World Cup final.
The fast rise of this Dutch team has been one of the surprises of this tournament, even though they just won the European Championship, because four years ago they were playing in their first women’s World Cup and just over a decade ago there was no domestic league in Holland.
But after taking over in 2017 as the full-time head coach for the Netherlands, Sarina Wiegman has implemented a 4-3-3 system that looks to keep possession, make other teams chase and play exciting football. That system will cause U.S. head coach Jill Ellis to make sure her team doesn’t get caught out in transition because if they do the Dutch can and will make them pay with their speedy wingers and great finishing up top.
The worry going into this game for the Netherlands will be if forward Lieke Martens will be ready to play in the game. She is a game-time decision going into Sunday and is, arguably, the best player for the Netherlands. She scored her two only goals against Japan in the round of 16.
For the U.S., they should be at full strength going into the game, even though Rapione missed the game against England, she believes she will be ready for the final.
Whoever wins this game will win because someone or a couple of stars deliver in the biggest moments, throughout this tournament both sides have gotten huge contributions from their best players and this team game will require the same from each team.
Morgan, Press and Naeher all delivered without Rapione in the semifinals, now with one more test left against the Netherlands, the United States will need their best players to deliver another masterpiece.