ORLANDO — Since protests began last summer over racial and social justice issues, many U.S. women’s national soccer team players have demonstrated their commitment to change by kneeling during the national anthem.
But before Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Brazil in the SheBelieves Cup, all 11 starters stood at attention, most with their right hand over their heart. The reserves, including Rapinoe, remained on their feet on the sideline.
It was a striking change for a group that has not hesitated over the years in battling injustice in society, in the male-dominated sports world and in pay disputes with its own national governing body.
“We all knew we probably weren’t going to kneel forever,” said left back Crystal Dunn, who is Black. “Kneeling was a form of protest. It was a way to bring about attention to issues going on in the country and across the world.”
In Thursday’s opener against Canada, eight starters knelt. The players have said they are united in their message, even if some stood.
“Even though we are choosing to stand,” Dunn said, “it doesn’t mean the conversations go away or stop. We’re ready to move past the protesting stage and actually move into putting all the talk into actual work.”
The work continues, Dunn said, in encouraging one another to step out of their comfort zones and getting more involved in the community.
“We felt we were ready to move into the next phase,” she added, “and continuously fight for change.”
Once the match started, the Americans ran their unbeaten streaks to 36 overall and 52 at home thanks to terrific goals by Christen Press in the 11th minute and Rapinoe in the 88th.
With four world titles and three decades of excellence, the U.S. team carries heightened expectations into every match. But as the first two matches of this tournament have demonstrated, the Americans will not receive free passes against established programs.
Three days after a 1-0 victory over Canada, the United States on Sunday was tested by Brazil and by its own inefficiency in the attack.
“These matches were difficult and a great character-builder for us,” said Coach Vlatko Andonovski, whose team will play its finale Wednesday against Argentina. “We want to play the best competition possible. We want to play against different types of opponents — ones that will present different challenges. Hopefully we can get better from it.”
Andonovski made four lineup changes, inserting Rose Lavelle for Catarina Macario in midfield, Alex Morgan for Carli Lloyd at striker, Press for Rapinoe at left wing and Emily Sonnett for Margaret Purce at right back.
Morgan, who gave birth last May, made her first start since the 2019 World Cup final in France.
The attacking wonders that each team deployed led to a fun, open first half — faster and freer than the laborious U.S. match against Canada. It flowed both ways, though.
Brazil, which scored four goals against Argentina last week, was dangerous on the counterattack in the first half. But Dunn made an expert slide tackle in the box, Alyssa Naeher stopped Ludmilla’s angled threat, and Brazil narrowly missed two connections.
The Americans were more polished, taking the lead on a sequence that started and ended in sublime style.
From her deep midfield position inside the U.S. end, Julie Ertz swung a pinpoint long ball to Lindsey Horan on the left flank. Horan touched it ahead to Press filling a channel.
As Press neared the penalty area, Morgan made a near-post run and Lynn Williams drifted to the back post. Press, though, knew this was her opportunity.
She cut inside on Bruna, creating enough separation to line up a right-footed shot from 16 yards and placing the ball in the far lower corner. Ten of her 59 international goals have come in her past 13 appearances.
“It’s my signature shot,” Press said, “and my signature style.”
The pace slowed in the second half, and the United States prevented the Brazilians from launching counters. Brazilian long balls did not pay off, either.
The Americans were off their game in the final third of the field, though. Williams should have doubled the lead on a partial breakaway in the 61st minute.
The inability to score a second goal left the outcome in the balance. Brazil threatened twice in the late going before Rapinoe secured victory with her 55th career goal — a 10-yard, right-footed volley on Horan’s cross.
She celebrated by rocking her arms together in front of a TV camera, a tribute to the newborn that married teammates Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris had brought home last week. Krieger and Harris, who play for the NWSL’s Orlando Pride, were not on the tournament roster but were watching.
On this day, before kickoff and close to the final whistle, soccer took a back seat to bigger things.
Note: In the second game, substitute Sarah Stratagakis scored on a scramble in second-half stoppage time as Canada defeated Argentina, 1-0.
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