SportsPulse: She’s tasked with replacing Hope Solo and she’s more than ready for it. Her name is Alyssa Naeher and she’s a star you need to know on the USWNT this summer.
LYON, France — Turns out, things do get through the U.S. women’s bubble.
The suggestions of arrogance. The shade thrown at their goalkeeper. The Twitter rage from their own president directed at Megan Rapinoe. Even that nonsense about some of their staff scouting out England’s hotel.
The difference between the U.S. women and the rest of the world, however, is that they don’t let it bother them. They’re confident in themselves and their abilities, and they believe that if they play their game, no one can beat them.
If you think that’s arrogant, that’s your problem.
All of which is to say, when Alex Morgan celebrated what would be the game-winning goal Tuesday night by pretending to sip a cup of tea, she was saying exactly what you thought she was saying.
“People like to talk about something that isn’t there, especially in a World Cup when all eyes are on the World Cup,” Morgan said after the Americans beat England 2-1 to advance to their third consecutive World Cup final.
U.S. players celebrate after the Women’s World Cup semifinal. (Photo: Francois MorI, AP)
“For us, it’s just letting things go in one ear and out the other and knowing we play our game and that’s a confident game. That’s not an arrogant game.”
It’s only arrogance if you can’t back it up. And the Americans do, time and again.
Rapinoe, who’d scored all four U.S. goals in their previous knockout games, was a surprise scratch from the starting lineup because of a hamstring strain. All Christen Press did was score the first U.S. goal in the 10th minute on a header that England goalkeeper Carly Telford had no chance of stopping.
Alyssa Naeher, who has been compared to Hope Solo and Briana Scurry endlessly and always comes up wanting, saved a penalty kick by Steph Houghton in the 84th minute. Did it by smothering the ball, too, so England couldn’t get a rebound.
“That was huge,” Becky Sauerbrunn said. “We’ll talk about that for years.”
So, too, the road the Americans had to travel to the final. Less rest than any of the other top teams. Having to play both France, the host and No. 4 team in the world, and No. 3 England just to get to the final.
And yet, they are where they always expected they’d be. Playing for yet another title Sunday.
The U.S. will play either the Netherlands or old foe Sweden. The second semifinal is Wednesday.
“They find a way,” coach Jill Ellis said. “I attribute that to just the mental strength. The culture, the environment, the history and the tradition — they’re vetted in pressure. You saw that tonight.”
When people throw shade at the Americans, it’s ignoring how unbelievably hard it is to do what they’ve been doing for 20 years now. The women’s game has gotten stronger and, as England coach Phil Neville said, this will be the best played tournament yet.
Powerhouses have come — England, France, Spain — and gone — China, maybe now Germany. And, yet, the Americans are here, tournament after tournament.
They have reached the semifinals or better every World Cup, and failed to do so once at the Olympics, losing to Sweden on penalties in the quarterfinals in Rio. They are unbeaten at the World Cup since the 2011 final, and have now won their last 11 games.
Yes, the size of the country and the legacy of Title IX gives them a deeper talent pool than anyone else. But you still have to harness that talent, and make sure you don’t squander it. That is the brilliance of the Americans.
Players come and go; so do coaches. But there is an expectation of greatness that is handed down. The message conveyed that it’s not about anyone beyond the 23 players, the coaches and support staff, and it’s not about anything besides winning.
They don’t sweat the pressure and they don’t hear the noise. Because none of it compares to what they go through on a daily basis.
“It goes back to the mindset and the expectation,” Ellis said. “We are here for one thing, that’s it. We are not here for lawsuits. Not silly, Trumped-up things. Not external noise. We are here for one thing, and that’s to win the trophy.
“They’re professional,” Ellis added. “That would be the best way to sum it up.”
And if that bothers you, maybe a cup of tea will calm you down.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.