Well, that was scary.
Even as USWNT fans have been preparing themselves mentally for the upcoming quarterfinal against France, dating back to, essentially, the day the Women’s World Cup brackets were revealed, a small part of our brains reminded us: there’s another match to get through first.
Even soccer writers who know the game can take unexpected twists and turns were busy preparing for Friday's match against France. And then Spain decided to make a stand. Two minutes after Megan Rapinoe put the United States into its customary leading position, Jennifer Hermoso did this after an uncharacteristic giveaway from the U.S.
Notice how in the moments after her strike from just outside the 18, she opens her mouth in what looks like genuine surprise. That's how dominant the U.S. has been so far in this tournament. Spain reminded us all that the remainder of the World Cup is unlikely to look that way, even if the Americans can vanquish France, the best remaining team in the field.
The rest of the match went down accordingly as the players ran through the thick, humid air. But in the end, the U.S. did what it had to do, controversial penalty call aside. (I didn’t think the penalty call that resulted in Rapinoe's second, game-winning goal was a bad one.)
I was surprised it took as long as it did for Jill Ellis to call on the subs, as this one felt like precisely the kind of match – physical, hot, one goal makes the difference – to call in Carli Lloyd off the bench. That happened, but not until the 85th minute.
Then again, Jill Ellis has coached a World Cup champion and I have not.
So where does that leave us? Well, back were we started: with a match against France that may live on in the lore of women's soccer history like few others we've seen. A tough road crowd for the favorites, a chance for Wendi Renard and Amadine Henry to erase the star-crossed history of the French team in big spots.
All of which is to say: it's anyone's to win or lose. That's no ordinary spot for the Americans to be in, certainly not this early in the tournament. It feels a lot like the spot ahead of the 2015 semifinal against Germany.
But it won't feel alien to the USWNT’s newcomer fans. Spain made sure of that.
Elsewhere in the World Cup:
Italy rolls on
I want to highlight not just that the Italian team has now reached the quarterfinals, but how many of their players are stepping forward to do it. Barbara Bonansea scored twice in the win over Australia that put the world on notice. Valentina Giacinti and Aurora Galli were the goalscorers in the 2-0 win over China Tuesday. Manuela Giugliano has four assists. Laura Giuliani was brilliant in goal once again, with six more saves from the youngest starting keeper in the entire tournament, and I thought defender Elisa Bartoli was the most important player of the pitch for either side.
There hasn't been a more entertaining team in this tournament than Italy, and the best part is going to be how this helps jumpstart the investment in women's Serie A, just as surely as England's run to the semifinals led to massive increases in money flowing into their domestic league, the FAWSL. Women's soccer needs the tiniest of spaces to prove itself indispensable. Too bad it has to keep doing that, but no one can stop it.
Speaking of investing
If you can watch this Marta statement without tearing up, you're made of stone. Cry in the beginning so you can smile in the end, indeed.
There's much more to come in this World Cup, both expected and surprising. Catch all the action and more from FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™.