LYON, France — It’s a distant second to the priority of retaining their World Cup title, of course. But one of the subplots heading into Tuesday’s semifinal between the defending champion United States and England revolves around the race for the tournament’s coveted Golden Boot, given to the top goal scorer at France 2019.
U.S. forwards Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe are two of the three players still in the competition tied for the lead with five goals. The other is England’s Ellen White. Odds are one of them will win it. Tuesday’s match could go a long way toward determining who.
“I’d first like to say that I’d like someone on our team to win the Golden Boot,” Morgan said Sunday when asked how much the award would mean to her.
“Of course it would be a great accolade,” she conceded, before making sure to add, “That’s not my goal, my goal is to help this team win a World Cup.”
No American has taken home the scoring title since Michelle Akers did it at the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991. Carli Lloyd came the closest when she netted six times four years ago in Canada, including a hat trick in the final win over Japan, same as Germany’s Célia Šašić. But Lloyd had to settle for the silver instead, as Šašić’s edge in assists served as the tiebreaker.
All of Morgan’s goals came in the USA’s opener tourney opener against Thailand. Meantime, Rapinoe enters semis with the hottest foot around, having scored four times in knockout round wins over Spain and France, while White has four goals in her last three outings.
Lionesses captain Steph Houghton admitted that containing Rapinoe will require a stout defensive performance. “I think for us as a team we respect those players, Rapinoe especially, in terms of what she’s done so far in this World Cup.”
Morgan has also been more of facilitator in the Americans’ last two games, not least against France, and could reprise that role on Tuesday.
“She has balance in her game in terms of penetration, and in the French game on being more a player who can hold the ball up first. And that’s tough,” said U.S. coach Jill Ellis.
Yet Morgan remains one of the most lethal finishers in the game. “There’s a single mindedness in Alex,” Ellis added.
Women’s soccer aficionados have been looking forward to the matchup between Rapinoe and England right back Lucy Bronze, whose coach, Phil Neville, called “the best player in the world” on Sunday. But Neville, perhaps in another bit of gamesmanship, suggested that Rachel Daly might get the assignment instead, with Bronze moving into the midfield.
“We have a decision to make there, because Rachel is in fantastic form,” Neville said, noting that Daly performed well against Rapinoe in March’s USA-hosted SheBelieves Cup. (He failed to mention that Rapinoe scored in that match.)
Still, perhaps for that reason, the England boss predicted “a shootout maybe [Tuesday] night between Ellen White and Alex Morgan for the top scorer.”
It’s going to be a shootout regardless. Neville called the U.S. the best team in the world “beyond a shadow of a doubt”, but insisted that his team won’t play defensively and will attack from the opening whistle.
That ought to make for an open, entertaining affair at Olympic Stadium — one that may end up deciding who wins the Golden Boot.
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