United States women’s soccer has a catalog of heroes — players like Abby Wambach, Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm.
They inspired generations of soccer fanatics, many of whom are playing for the U.S. women’s national team today. The 1991 and 1999 World Cup champions forged a legacy to be proud of. But instead of beaming with joy, when the camera panned to Hamm in the crowd during the USWNT’s 0-0 draw with Portugal on Tuesday, the former player was visibly nervous. With her mouth formed into a tense grimace, Hamm wrung her hands.
And in households across the United States, in the cover of night, fans likely did the same.
This wasn’t the dominant U.S. women’s soccer we’ve grown accustomed to. That team has yet to appear at the 2023 World Cup. Instead, after the Netherlands outdid them with a 7-0 win over Vietnam in the other Group E finale, the USWNT finished as runners-up and eked out a spot in the Round of 16.
There was a savior in the draw, just not one that can ever join the former players in a World Cup crowd. It was a goal post.
Two minutes into stoppage time, Ana Capeta got behind the defense and fired a shot that nearly eliminated the USWNT. It would have put the U.S. at risk of losing in back-to-back Olympics and World Cups for the first time since 2000 and 2003.
Instead, the shot ricocheted off the goal post. It was an inanimate object that saved the USWNT’s World Cup.