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USWNT: The Tale of Two Halves

BY J.J. Pavlick


Tonight's match will be interesting lots on the line for Vlatko, he faces being the first manager in the team's history to lose four games in a row. Germany is not looking to do him any favors tonight, look for another physical game by Germany. The last match saw Germany win 2-1 on a last-minute goal scored off a free kick where the U.S. side was caught off guard on the quick restart. The crowd of 26,317 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ is loud inside the arena in the pregame. The temperature inside the arena is nice and cold, and the temperature difference between the game in Ft. Lauderdale and Harrison is very noticeable. Will be interesting to see how Vlatko handles players on limited minutes and battling the injury bug. Some storm clouds are passing over in the pregame but so far holding out and just bringing a cool breeze through. Kickoff is set for 5:08 pm, weather channel says the temperature is 48 and feels like 45 not sure they got the numbers correct. The temperature feels more like the thirties already and the game has not started yet.

The announcer gets things underway inside Red Bull Arena, honoring the U.S. Servicemen and Servicewomen of the armed forces for this nation. They honored WW2 Veteran 98-year-old Sgt. Pete Dupre, an army veteran, passed away on January 21, 2022. The U.S. Women’s National team had the pleasure of meeting him before his passing. He had also played for them 3 years ago at Red Bull Arena when he first went viral playing the Star Spangle Banner on his harmonica. He recorded his playing of God Bless America on harmonica which was played for the fans to a standing ovation.

(Credit to Pete Dupre & The Greatest Generations Foundation for the YouTube video.)

The substitute players start to make their way to the benches, the Volkswagen ball carrier is set at midfield. Now the video preview plays to get the crowd up and ready for the walkout. The walkout begins with a decent size crowd still piling into their seats.

The building erupts in cheers for Alex Morgan being announced for her 200th Cap, Vlatko is announced and receives a sizable number of boos from the crowd. Germany starts the match with the kickoff.

The first half was one the U.S. national team would love to put behind them as quickly as possible. Germany controlled the half from the first whistle blow, they would score in the 18' after the U.S. again failed to play the second ball well in the box. The country tuned in to see how they would respond to surrendering a late goal to Germany just three days prior in Ft. Lauderdale to lose 2-1 and suffer their third consecutive loss for the first time since 1993. The press conference following that match saw Manager Vlatko Andonovski say that he knows the results need to change but he wants people to remember the team did play better against Germany. He believes in the players and the system. While yes it was the third loss, the game had a good amount of upside too. A lot of fans and even some media have been critical of all things Vlatko and making the sky-falling mentality spread like wildfire. If you watched England, Spain, and Germany game one. That was not the true story of the US Women's team. Yes, they did lose but they fought hard in England and made some costly errors in Wembley. However, the good was more than the bad, also some forget the Yates report dropped on them just days earlier on top of many key players out with injuries. Spain was shortly after that match again no real time to process all the emotions and the situation. Some forget these players are humans like all of us. They have emotions, they feel pain, they feel grief, and they suffer. If you rewatched the games, you would see it was not as bad as some made it out to be. Spain was bad, yes, but again many things were going on, while the game was the worst of the three it had some bright spots too. Soccer is a funny sport, you can dominate possession, shots, shots on goal, corners, time of possession, and more yet still lose the match. Does it mean the team is always bad no, does it mean it is always due to being unlucky? No. It is just one of those sports things that are hard to explain why, in every game, the team played hard, and they did not quit. They played for each other, and you could see the frustration. The biggest issue was the supporters of the team have been so used to dominance and expecting a win every game, they forget other countries have improved too. The U.S. is not the only country with mega stars now, all the big teams have them as well. When the team falters take a breath, rewatch the match, take in what you saw, then react accordingly. Yes, the supporters have a right to be angry when the team loses, and yes, they have the right to be upset as well. The first half of this match was disheartening, there were several times they appeared flat except for a few players on the pitch. You could feel the sadness in the air at Red Bull Arena, the crowd was in shock. I will admit going into the half the boo birds were expected to rain down from all directions. Instead, the opposite happened the supporters and fans rallied behind the team. They cheered the team as they left the pitch for halftime.

In the second half the U.S. wasted no time at all, they came out with a fire and passion the country had been waiting to see. That "We're the United States of America and We Don't Back Down to Anyone Mentality" In the 51' and 53' goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher produced huge saves from point-blank range. Seconds after the big save in the 53' the unthinkable happened, Rose took the ball down the right flank and found a wide-open Sophia Smith who stayed composed and received a pass near the top of the box. She dribbled in just above the penalty spot and rifled off a shot just under the crossbar to the upper area of the far post. The United States had tied the match 1-1 and Sophia Smith took off running to teammate Megan Rapinoe on the bench hugging her on the sideline. You could see the relief of emotion on the young star's face. When asked after the game what she saw that led to the goal? Soph responded

"Honestly, I have no clue; I seriously think I blacked out. I will have to rewatch it to know what I saw and what happened."

You could feel the relief valve letting out steam, the players, the crowd, the media, everyone could breathe. The "We Got This, Watch Out Germany Mentality took over" Mallory Pugh did not waste much time to send Red Bull Arena into a frenzy. She received a long pass from midfield, broke her defender and it was her and Ann-Katrin Berger. Pugh did not miss, she sent a laser into the back of the net and sent NJ into euphoria. I have not seen that arena rock the way it did when that ball crossed the goal line in a long time. I am sure the people living in the apartments near the arena were checking for earthquake warnings on tv. The place was shaking, fans were losing their minds along with the players. The moment we had all wanted to see since the Yates report came. The United States was the Alpha again, they did not back down. They took the game to Germany; they did not back down from challenges instead they initiated them. The day's many thoughts were gone and came back furiously from the moment that goal was scored in the 55' the US never looked back. Mallory would get the crowd on their feet with a long breakaway from just inside midfield, she beat the keeper to her right but somehow Berger recovered just in time to block the shot. It bounced to Rose Lavelle and the place was about to erupt till it showed on the jumbotron it went just wide. For the remaining 30 minutes, the U.S. tried to get Alex Morgan on the goal sheet. Mal gave up a wide-open opportunity twice just to try and get Alex a goal on the same day as her 200th cap for the national team. The United States started a shooting gallery on Germany for the remainder of the match. The final whistle blew, and the arena erupted again, they did it! The DJ cranked out New York, New York to celebrate the victory. America you can breathe again, this team is going to be okay.

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