USWNT leaves France, President Trump spat behind to shift focus to England

PARIS — The biggest game of this Women’s World Cup so far — and for more than a few members of the United States team that knocked out host nation France with a 2-1 win here Friday, the biggest game of their lives — was only a few minutes old.

The players were still in their uniforms, still trying to process what had just transpired on the Parc des Princes pitch. It was a moment to celebrate, to be sure. But because this is a World Cup, and because the victory over Les Bleues catapulted the U.S. into Tuesday’s semifinal against England in Lyon, the Americans weren’t allowed to bask in glory for long before being asked to look toward what comes next.

And what comes next for the title favorites is another huge test. Tuesday’s contest at the Olympic Stadium might not be able to surpass the France match in terms of pure theater, but make no mistake about it: This one won’t be easy, either.

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“England’s an awesome team — we know that,” U.S. midfielder Samantha Mewis said moments after the final whistle Friday. “England has a lot of threats. Of course, we’re going to continue to play our game, but there’s definitely a lot of things that we’re going to have to focus on because we know that they’re really well-rounded and dangerous in a lot of areas.”

The U.S. knows England well, having met the Lionesses in the group stage of the SheBelieves Cup back in March. That tilt ended 2-2, with a close to full-strength U.S. lineup falling behind in the second half before Tobin Heath equalized inside the final 25 minutes to rescue a point for her team.

Through five games at France 2019, England has only looked stronger. Unlike the Americans, who struggled in their first elimination match against Spain, Phil Neville’s side has gotten better in every game. And in striker Ellen White — who has four goals in her last three games and is tied for the tournament lead with Americans Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe and Australian Sam Kerr — it has the sort of in-form striker that a team can ride all the way to a title.

Megan Rapinoe (left), Alex Morgan and the USWNT face a steep challenge against England on Tuesday. (Getty)
Megan Rapinoe (left), Alex Morgan and the USWNT face a steep challenge against England on Tuesday. (Getty)

“She is obviously coming into this next game confident,” Morgan said of White, while pointing out that she’s hardly England’s only weapon. “For us, it’s definitely not only looking at her but also the wingers and the speed that they have and looking at the 10 spot and looking at [playmaker Fran] Kirby.

“They have a lot of talent. We obviously need to look forward quite quickly.”

They also have to look at their own play. These fearless Americans are more than capable of blocking out any potential distraction, like Rapinoe’s spat with President Donald Trump. They’re more than willing to take on any comer; they proved that against France. Yet as strong as Friday’s performance was defensively, and as well as the visitors took advantage of their chances, scoring inside the first 15 minutes for the fifth game running, they were also fortunate not to be punished by sloppy possessions. There is still room for improvement.

“It’s no secret that we have to get better on the ball, playing better with it, better offensively, better in our possession and our passing,” said Rapinoe, who had both U.S. goals on Friday.

“I think we can be better,” Mewis said. “France was a really great team and they presented us with a lot of challenges, they had a lot of the ball. I give us credit for grinding it out and getting the win, but I think we know we have more to offer and we’re going to try to build on that for the next game.”

England, in the meantime, ran over a good Norwegian team 3-0 and will have an extra day’s rest.

“England was super clinical the other night,” Rapinoe said. “We have absolutely our work cut out for us.”

Neville’s squad is one on the rise, there’s no question about that. It came within a whisker of reaching the final four years ago in Canada, only do be undone by an own goal in the semis against Japan.

Still, the U.S. remains the favorite. It knows what it takes to win a World Cup, and the performance against France only reinforced its status as the favorite. England doesn’t have that sort of experience. Not yet.

“We’re just getting warmed up — we’re on a mission,” coach Jill Ellis told her team after it took another step toward the trophy on Friday.

“I respect Phil, and I know he’ll have his players ready, as will we. We’ll see how it plays out.”

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