The U.S. women's national team is headed back to the Women's World Cup final.
A 2-1 win over England means the Americans will play for a second straight title and a fourth overall, with either the Netherlands or Sweden waiting in the final on Sunday in Lyon.
Christen Press, a surprise starter in place of Megan Rapinoe, scored in the 10th minute, only to have Ellen White answer for England nine minutes later. Alex Morgan, playing on her 30th birthday, restored the Americans' lead in the 31st minute, though, and that edge was preserved by goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, whose penalty save on Steph Houghton in the 84th minute helped the U.S. overcome a VAR decision that went England's way.
The two sides impressed in their respective quarterfinal wins, with the USA blitzing France from the start and eventually holding on for a 2-1 win thanks to a pair of goals from Rapinoe. England thrashed Norway 3-0, with White, like Rapinoe, joining Morgan and Sam Kerr atop the golden boot standings by scoring her fifth goal in the win.
Recent matches between the two sides had been close. There had been four 1-0 results in the last five meetings (three won by the USA), while the two sides played to a back-and-forth 2-2 draw at the SheBelieves Cup this past March, a tournament ultimately won by the Lionesses. As play unfolded Tuesday, it was clear that this would become another tight classic.
The U.S. made a stunning change to its lineup, with Rapinoe left out of the lineup in favor of Press despite her recent surge. Initial word from U.S. Soccer left it open-ended as to why she sat out, but later reports suggested she had a hamstring injury. Rapinoe, in comments after the match, said it was a 'minor strain' and that she would be ready for the final.
England had some major changes as well. Starting goalkeeper Karen Bardsley is reportedly out injured, with Carly Telford getting the start in ther place. Also going to the bench were regular starters Toni Duggan and Fran Kirby, with England manager Phil Neville shaking things up tactically for the match.
Both sides began looking to continue their trends of scoring early. The U.S. managed to score within the opening 12 minutes in each of its five matches leading into the semifinal, while England scored within the opening 14 in four of its five games, with only Argentina holding the Lionesses down.
Rose Lavelle nearly scored for the U.S. in the fourth minute in sensational fashion. She nutmegged Millie Bright on the endline before cutting back and firing on goal, only for Telford to make the strong save.
The U.S. maintained its early pressure and it was rewarded with yet another early goal. It was Press who got it, validating her selection early on by heading home a cross from Kelley O'Hara to make it 1-0 in the 10th minute and give England its first deficit of the tournament.
Lavelle looked to make it 2-0 at the quarter-hour mark, ripping a left-footed blast from long range but whizzing it over the bar.
The USA lead didn't last long. White scored her tournament-best sixth goal off a feed from Beth Mead, turning home a quality finish in the 19th minute to make it 1-1 after the U.S. afforded England too much space in building toward goal.
Lavelle tried her chance from distance again five minutes after. Morgan went down in a heap in a 50-50 challenge inside the England box, and the ball eventually fell to the top of the area, where Lavelle was waiting. She blasted a first-time chance on frame, but Telford parried it to safety.
On the other end, England nearly benefited from an own goal. Becky Sauerbrunn extended a high leg to defend a cross, but the ball hit off the top of her foot and was nearly steered into the U.S. goal, only to go inches wide of the post. Nothing came of the ensuing corner, letting the U.S. off with the match still tied.
The U.S. took the lead two minutes later. Horan took a pass from Press before curling a sensational ball over the top for Morgan, who headed home the go-ahead goal. For Morgan, it was a lovely way to celebrate her 30th birthday, and she made a pointed statement in her celebration of the goal, pretending to sip some tea after making it 2-1. The goal brought Morgan level with White in the golden boot race, and she holds the tiebreaker thanks to having more assists than her English counterpart.
Naeher made sure that goal stood up, as England looked to strike back instantly. Keira Walsh struck from long range, and the highly scrutinized goalkeeper made her best save of the tournament in the run of play, going full extension to her left to swat it to safety.
Naeher made another save four minutes into the second half. Off a well-designed set piece, Bright headed at the back post down toward the center, and White tried to flick it into goal with her back to the target. She couldn't get much power on it, though, and Naeher claimed the ball cleanly and in front of the goal line to keep it 2-1.
England nearly had a catastrophe in the back, as Telford was pressured by Press and wound up gifting the ball to the U.S. winger. Press eventually settled control but she could only curl a long-range attempt around the frame, unable to add to the USA's lead.
The U.S. suffered an injury setback in the 65th minute, when Lavelle, who had England's defense on its heels all game, was forced out with an apparent hamstring injury.
England appeared to pull even less than five minutes later, when Scott fed White right down the center. The goal-scoring star beat Naeher with a low finish, seemingly making it 2-2. That is, until VAR intervened. White was ruled just offside on the play, and the goal was taken off the board, allowing the USA to exhale.
England had another chance heading into the 80th minute. Demi Stokes was played down the left channel, where she crossed for White in the center of the box. The England forward whiffed on the shot, and initially the play went on–until VAR intervened. Replays showed that Sauerbrunn caught White's leg from behind, thus giving a PK to England.
The Lionesses couldn't capitalize, though. Houghton's penalty was saved cleanly by Naeher, who guessed correctly, diving to her right and stuffing a rather softly taken PK, keeping it 2-1. The PK miss was England's third of the competition, following a pair of earlier misses by Nikita Parris.
The USA saw out the match from there, with England unable to threaten again. Bright was sent off for a studs-up challenge on Morgan, reducing the Lionesses to 10 players, and the U.S. did well to draw fouls, force errors and kill off the clock, securing a return to the final stage.
Here were the lineups for both sides:
Here are the rosters for both teams:
GOALKEEPERS: Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS: Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars); Crystal Dunn (NC Courage), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O'Hara (Utah Royals), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns)
MIDFIELDERS: Morgan Brian (Chicago Red Stars), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Allie Long (Seattle Reign), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage)
FORWARDS: Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns); Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Utah Royals), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)
GOALKEEPERS: Karen Bardsley (Manchester City), Mary Earps (Wolfsburg), Carly Telford (Chelsea)
DEFENDERS: Lucy Bronze (Lyon), Alex Greenwood (Manchester United), Steph Houghton (Manchester City), Millie Bright (Chelsea), Demi Stokes (Manchester City), Leah Williamson (Arsenal), Abbie McManus (Manchester United), Rachel Daly (Houston Dash)
MIDFIELDERS: Keira Walsh (Manchester City), Jill Scott (Manchester City), Jade Moore (Reading), Georgia Stanway (Manchester City), Karen Carney (Chelsea), Lucy Staniforth (Birmingham City)
FORWARDS: Toni Duggan (Barcelona), Beth Mead (Arsenal), Nikita Parris (Manchester City), Jodie Taylor (Seattle Reign), Ellen White (Birmingham City), Fran Kirby (Chelsea)