FRISCO, Texas — I raced home from lacrosse practice last Wednesday, rushed to shower, and got ready for the U.S. women’s national team match against Japan in the conclusion of the SheBelieves Cup. School that day was hectic, with our teachers telling us about our distance learning program that was to be implemented when we go into self-quarantine.
My mind was still racing about school. Not to mention recent news regarding Carlos Cordeiro, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, was spinning through my mind. A U.S. Soccer legal filing released earlier in the week noted that “indisputable science” proved players on the women’s team were inferior to men and therefore undeserving of equal pay.
What did this mean for me as a female athlete? Would my sports career end in high school? I had to push those thoughts to the side, though because I was covering a USWNT soccer game. (Cordeiro resigned the next day.)
Within the first six minutes of the game, a Japanese defender was issued a yellow card when Lindsey Horan was fouled just outside the 18-yard box. The U.S. played one man down until Horan could return. Megan Rapinoe took the kick. She aimed for the top left corner and scored. The crowd roared as the U.S. went up 1-0.
After that first goal, I realized how spectacular my article needed to be. I’d looked up to these women my entire life, hanging posters and jerseys up in my room. What if they read my article? Now that, that would be a dream come true.
In the sold-out stadium of 19,096 people, Christen Press scored from outside the box in the 26th minute. Rapinoe made the assist after an interception from the Japanese goalkeeper, Ayaka Yamashita. At this point, Japan would need to score four goals to knock the U.S. out of its first place standing. The cheers of the crowd roared in my ears.
Stakes were high in the 58th minute after Japan’s first goal, scored by Mana Iwabuchi. The U.S., ahead by only one goal, needed to score one more to secure their third SheBelieves Cup title.
Not long before Rapinoe was named Player of the Match, she subbed off the field in the 61st minute to a standing ovation from devoted fans. I felt the love pouring out from the crowd. I wondered if that would ever be me, walking off the field that held some of the best players in the world, the crowd cheering loudly. Behind Rapinoe came defender Crystal Dunn, the only player to start every game this season for the U.S.
In the final stretch of the game, I was engrossed. All the worries about school and my athletic career evaporated from my head, and I was only focused on this game. In the 83rd minute, Mallory Pugh found Horan in the box. She scored the 19th goal of her career as she secured the SheBelieves Cup win. The U.S. ended the tournament with nine points, while Spain finished with six, England with three, and Japan with zero.
I was ecstatic. The USWNT won, and it seemed like there was nothing wrong in the world. In that moment, I was thankful that soccer provided a welcome reprieve from so much uncertainty in the world.
Photo credit: Alika Jenner/Getty Images