After scoring two goals in back-to-back games, Megan Rapinoe will start Tuesday’s Women’s World Cup semifinal match-up against England...on the bench. Per the USWNT’s announcement of the lineup, Rapinoe has been benched in favor of Christen Press, one of two changes to the starting XI that faced France (the other is, thankfully, Lindsey Horan, who re-enters the starting lineup for Sam Mewis).
Rapinoe has been the talk of the tournament, both for her five goals and her loud and clear anti-Trump messaging. It seems almost blasphemous to bench her before the semifinal, so much so that there was initial speculation that it might be a disciplinary benching (it isn’t, according to a U.S. Soccer spokesperson). And yet, this move makes all the sense in the world on the field.
Christen Press is a faster, harder-working style of winger on the left, and she will help to neutralize England’s best weapons: the right-sided pair of Nikita Parris and Lucy Bronze, the latter of whom has been one of the best players in the entire tournament. Press can push Bronze back with the threat of her pace, in turn drying out some of the service to Parris, England’s most important attacker. If the United States take another early lead, cutting off England’s surest road to a goal will be worth its weight in gold.
Plus, Press’s nose for goal (her natural position is as a striker) should help compensate for (a possibly gimpy?) Alex Morgan’s relatively disappointing tournament on the scoring front. And if the U.S. find themselves in need of some creativity of their own later? They can bring in a well-rested Rapinoe an hour or so into the match and count on her magic from off the bench.
So, yes, it feels weird that after all the talk about Rapinoe, we won’t see her out there from the first minute against England. But for once, USWNT coach Jill Ellis has switched things up in a key moment, and the tactical basis for the swap could turn it into the key matchup as the U.S. aim to make their third straight World Cup final.