Football Features

“Rose Lavelle has thorns” – Five things learned as USA retain Women’s World Cup

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:34, 7 July 2019

In an exciting afternoon of football, USA beat the Netherlands 2-0 to win the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

It was a rousing victory for the Americans who have now won back-to-back World Cups for the first time in their history. What did we learn?

1. This Rose has thorns

Rose Lavelle has quietly been one of the best players all tournament long. At 24 she is one of the younger members of this United States squad, but even as Jill Ellis has rotated talents as impressive as Sam Mewis and Lindsey Horan, she has been consistent in starting Lavelle.

Why? Because she has something the other American midfielders do not. An elegance, a grace. When she runs with the ball it’s more like she’s gliding over the pitch rather than running. That grace and skill adds a whole different dimension to the American side whose midfield can be physically impenetrable but perhaps lacking in technical play. It’s pure beauty, but not something you’d think would hurt.

In the final, Lavelle was once again at her delightful best. And of course, she managed to bookend the tournament perfectly. Having scored twice in USA’s first game against Thailand, including her nation’s second in that match, she once again bagged the second goal in the final.

With the game poised at 1-0, Lavelle picked the ball up in midfield and immediately charged at the Dutch defence. She swung her foot over the ball with a deft fake shot to send the Dutch defender one way before instantly dipping into that newfound space and unleashing a beauty of a strike, low into the far corner of the net, to settle the scoreline and the tournament (and sealing her Bronze Ball award). Her game is not just an adornment to make the USA palatable, this Rose has thorns too and they will make you bleed.

2. Dithering Dutch

This match was, in many ways, over before kick-off. Though the Dutch are European Champions and a serious side not to be ignored, they are not on the level of the imperious United States Women’s National Team. However given their goalkeeper was playing a blinder, the chance was there for them to actually do some damage in the final.

Repeatedly for the first hour of the match, the Dutch were able to break through the American press and charge at their defence. There were serious chances, or half-chances, available to them on the counter. Not that anything is guaranteed, but with some smarter decision-making the Netherlands could have really had some great looks at Alyssa Naehler’s goal. One chance for Vivianne Miedema was particularly frustrating where she passed up about three opportunities to shoot at goal. The Netherlands are improving but they need to be more ruthless in the final third if they really want to progress.

3. VAR is inconsistent

When a ricocheted cross came into the Dutch area, Stephanie van der Gragt was caught off balance and she knew that with Alex Morgan in the vicinity she had to try and get the ball away. Van der Gragt lunged to get the ball, and then Morgan ran towards the ball as well. Collision was inevitable and it was just bad luck that Morgan got there first and there was contact.

In a non-VAR world, Van der Gragt may have gotten away with it. After all, the Netherlands’ Nigel de Jong flying kicked Xabi Alonso in the chest back in the 2010 men’s World Cup final and didn’t get sent off. But as soon as VAR started looking, it was always going to be a penalty. And thus it was. Now it’s hard to argue that it was a penalty, but at the same time, the use of VAR in the knockout rounds has been strange.

What we need is some consistency in VAR. From a massive omnipresence despite a lack of clamping down on discipline in England vs. Cameroon to suddenly vanishing after the round of 16. VAR was barely (if at all) used in the quarter-final, especially when France should have had a penalty for handball against the USA. Then suddenly it reappeared in the final and largely settled things.

Can we have some consistency, please?

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4. Van Veenendaal goes down swinging

This game should have been a massacre. An absolute bloodbath. The USA were so much stronger than the Netherlands and dominated the game for basically the entirety of it. The only reason the scoreline ended 2-0 and not in a thrashing was down to Sari van Veenendaal.

The 29-year-old goalie is currently a free-agent having last played for Arsenal, but she put in such a phenomenal performance against the Americans you’d never know. Van Veenendaal was all over her goal, making huge saves high, low, with her feet. It looked like America had no recourse to getting past her until the penalty.

Even after the American goal, with the Dutch playing with basically zero defence and getting hit with countless counter-attacks, still Van Veenendaal remained a Gandalf-esque roadblock for the Netherlands, making a phenomenal eight saves. She won the Golden Gloves award for the tournament’s best goalkeeper and you cannot argue with that. She put up one hell of a fight.

5. Hail To The Chief

Megan Rapinoe won the Golden Boot after scoring 6 goals and getting 3 assists. Those figures put her level with Alex Morgan but she has played less minutes so took the award based on that. The sixth goal came in the final as she stepped up to slot away a second half penalty. If there were nerves, and there surely must have been given the USA were desperate for a goal against the seemingly impassable Van Veenendaal, you didn’t see them as Rapinoe coolly slotted home.

Megan Rapinoe won the Golden Ball after six special performances (she didn’t play in the semi-final because of injury) and was one of the most spectacular players at the World Cup. Her dribbling, her crossing, her shooting; she was the deadliest weapon for the USA. And off the field she caused an absolute sensation when she took a stand against the bigotry of Donald Trump and his Presidency by announcing that the national side will not be going to the White House as is customary for victorious American sports teams. Trump’s response to Rapinoe’s comments was that she should try winning first.

Well, how ’bout now?

Megan Rapinoe is the President the USA deserves, hail to the chief!

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