England tops USWNT on a night of girl power and unity at Wembley

England tops USWNT on a night of girl power and unity at Wembley

LONDON — Playing in front of a big and boisterous crowd at Wembley Stadium, the US and English women’s national soccer teams met in a friendly Friday that carried an appeal and message stretching far beyond the pitch.

Before kickoff, players from both teams stood together holding a banner that read, “Protect the Players” — a gesture of solidarity at the end of a week in which a damning investigative report about abuse and misconduct in the National Women’s Soccer League was released. The players wore teal armbands in support of abuse victims.

“If we’re not protected in the right ways, then nothing else really matters,” US star Megan Rapinoe said. “For us to come together and take a moment on a night like this, I think it’s really important and powerful.”

Teammate Crystal Dunn said, “It’s important we realize this is a global issue that is deeply rooted in women’s sports. Both teams coming together shows we are fighting this together.”

The harmonious occasion came before an audience of 76,893, a reflection of growing interest in women’s soccer in England, where, this summer, the national team won the European Championship for the first time.

The good vibes continued into the evening as the fourth-ranked Lionesses defeated the No. 1 United States, 2-1, extending the hosts’ winning streak to 15 and ending the visitors’ run at 13.

Entering the day unbeaten in 21 straight, the Americans lost for the first time since the 2021 Olympic semifinals in Japan.

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Lauren Hemp scored for England in the 10th minute, and after Sophia Smith tied in the 28th, Georgia Stanway restored the lead four minutes later on a penalty kick.

Washington Spirit star Trinity Rodman scored an apparent equalizer in the 36th minute, but after video review detected an offside violation by the narrowest of margins during a terrific US buildup, the goal was nullified.

Both teams are preparing for the World Cup, which will take place next summer in Australia and New Zealand. Friday’s friendly offered a glimpse at a possible final.

“The fear factor has gone,” said Anita Asante, who played for England from 2004 to 2018. “There’s still a high degree of respect for the USA — the players and the talent.”

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The Lionesses, she added, came into the game thinking, “We can compete with the best in the world.”

Asante was among the former Lionesses invited onto the pitch before kickoff in honor of the program’s 50-year anniversary. The Football Association, the sport’s governing body in England, banned women’s soccer in 1921, saying it was “quite unsuitable for females.” The team’s first official match took place in 1972 on a muddy pitch in Scotland.

The last time the Lionesses played at Wembley was at the end of July, when they lifted the European trophy. And there were many reminders of that victory Friday. The stadium announcer mentioned it several times, prompting the crowd to go bonkers. There was also a sea of ​​banners outside the stadium featuring the players with a “European Champions” message.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of that in this soccer-mad country. England had not celebrated a major international trophy of any kind since the men’s team won the 1966 World Cup. The women this year not only exorcised that ghost but also connected with the public and young girls on an emotional level.

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Linzi Burnside, 30, a nursery schoolteacher, snagged tickets on the first — and only — day they were available before all general admission tickets were gone. She brought three wannabe professional players — two age 10, one age 9 — with her, saying she was inspired to come following England’s recent success and to show her girls “what they can do if they work hard.”

She added, “It’s always been a boys’ game; there’s such a stigma about girls playing.” But she said that is changing. “Little girls are saying, ‘I’ll give that a try.’ ”

There was a girl-power vibe in the stadium. At halftime, fans were on their feet singing along to Shania Twain’s hit song, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”

Not long after kickoff, they had plenty to celebrate. England counterattacked with pace and precision on the right flank. Beth Mead curled a low cross into the penalty area. US defender Alana Cook failed to defuse the situation with her sliding effort, leaving the ball for Hemp to tap past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.

It marked the first US deficit since the 1-0 setback to Canada at the Olympics 14 months ago.

The Americans drew even on a team-leading 10th goal of the year by Smith, 22, a natural winger who started at striker in place of injured star Alex Morgan.

Lindsey Horan created the opportunity, pressing Stanway from behind deep in England’s end. Horan tapped the ball ahead of Smith, who turned at the top of the box and drove a low shot past diving goalkeeper Mary Earps and into the left corner.

England answered. US defender Hailie Mace raised her foot and caught Lucy Bronze in the face. Play continued, but after video replay, a penalty kick was awarded. Stanway converted.

Four minutes later, at the end of an end-to-end sequence, Rodman appeared to tie it with a 10-yard shot, set up by Smith and Rapinoe. Again, there was video review, and referee Reim Hussein ruled Smith was slightly offside.

“I’m not sure that second goal was offside — the pictures look a little [suspect],” Rapinoe said, laughing.

In the second half, Hussein awarded the United States a penalty kick, but after reviewing the play, she changed the call. It was the proper decision because the ball had struck Hemp in the back side, not the arm.

The Americans created some decent chances in the second half but didn’t seriously test English keeper Mary Earps. Despite the defeat, US Coach Vlatko Andonovski said the match proved beneficial ahead of Tuesday’s visit to No. 8 Spain and two home friends next month against second-ranked Germany.

“We came here to face a good opponent; we got that,” he said. “We came here to experience adversity; we got that. We came here to experience a hostile environment; we got that. So [the game] definitely checks all the boxes. Now we’ve got to get back to the drawing board and get better from it.”

Goff reported from Washington.

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