Ahead of the World Cup Final this Sunday, we at AfXI got together to discuss the tournament and offer our predictions for USA vs Netherlands. Below is a transcript of our Slack conversation, lightly edited for formatting and clarity.
Bridget Gordon: Any questions before we get started?
Sophie Lawson: Why is it so gatdang hot?
Charles Olney: Why are there no fans?
Sophie: Why are the French so French?
Bridget: These are all excellent questions.
Jason Anderson: Is it OK if i eat a second breakfast?
Stephanie: Should we start with favorite/least favorite tournament moment?
Bridget: Yes. To both Second Breakfast and the starting question.
Charles: My favorite moment was Italy’s victory over Australia in their opening group game. It was the first real ‘upset’ of the tournament, and also an announcement that Italy might in fact be even better than the people who had been talking them up as dark horses had thought.
Bridget: My fave was literally every USWNT goal celebration. Least fave was everything Phil Neville has said.
Charles: I also love Argentina’s draw against Japan. Their first ever point, and just a world-class team defensive performance from a squad that has received literally no support from their federation.
Jason: As a well-known Stanini, my favorite moment is Estefania Banini performing miracles against Japan.
Steph: Wow I might have to append favorite moment to Endler performances.
Kudzi Musarurwa: Favourite: Thailand scoring and the reaction of their bench.
Least: England vs Cameroon and everything that followed it.
Charles: My least favorite moment was watching Scotland as they lost their 3-0 lead, and suddenly found themselves eliminated, in the midst of some utter refereeing chaos.
Jason: Least favorite for me is Saki Kumagai’s devastation after being called for a handball that there was nothing she could really do to avoid.
Sophie: Favourite is that every team left having scored at least one goal, least favourite was how Scotland went out. There was a large degree of shitting the bed but, it’s still a massive gut-punch for Wee Kimmeh and co.
Kim McCauley: My favorite was Argentina getting a point against Japan. I know it’s weird to pick a 0-0 draw but I don’t know if I’ve ever been so nervous for a sports team and it was incredible to watch a team that gets no support fight like that.
Least favorite was definitely the England-Cameroon game. We all made fun of Neville and the English press for their overreaction but it truly did suck to watch.
Charles: My other least favorite game was USA-Thailand. The Discourse quickly got out of control, but it wasn’t fun watching the best team in the world obliterate a group of semi-amateurs.
Stephanie: Okay, so next up, underperformers and overperformers.
Charles: For overperformers, I feel like the Netherlands are kind of weirdly the answer here. It’s obviously a good team and it’s not an overperformance for them to make the final, but they got here without ever actually being any good.
Sophie: Can I have the Netherlands for under and over performance?
Charles: Yeah, both seem fair there.
Stephanie: Underperformers, I want to say Australia, but also the writing was maybe on the wall before the tournament?
Kim: I don’t want to go in too hard on Australia’s players, but let’s call their federation and administration underperformers. We still haven’t gotten an explanation for why Staj had to be fired and his replacement seemed woefully unprepared. That they were completely unable to, or overlooked, identifying and developing any center back under the age of 30 is astonishing. They should have been the 2nd best team at this tournament.
Stephanie: South Korea was a big underperformer for me.
Charles: Yeah, Australia feel like a big underperformance compared to what we thought a year ago, but every minor problem just kept growing and growing and all their players were in bad form. So it’s not really a surprise they didn’t go far.
Bridget: Yeah I was really disappointed that Australia didn’t get further, Sam Kerr deserved at least a semifinal.
For overperformer, it’s gotta be Italy for me.
Stephanie: Overperformed...possibly Italy, even if Sophie tried to tell us.
Jason: Underperformers: plenty of coaches! There have been a ton of teams who would have done a lot more if they had even moderately able folks running the show, but federations don’t put the money up, and so many great players are left with coaches that aren’t qualified for this level.
As far as teams go, I think I have to go with Australia. They played one good half in the entire tournament by my reckoning, showed up totally unprepared to actually ever have to defend, and their group stage form was so poor that it wasn’t even a surprise to see them go out so early.
Sophie: I WARNED YOU ALL. (Sorry.)
On the level, it feels like given the ability and potential of basically, every team at this tournament, everyone has under-performed to a degree. No team has really lit France up, and consistently.
Stephanie: Did Germany underperform or did they just perform?
Kim: Honestly, Brazil over-performed. We expect them to make quarterfinals because of their history and Marta, but they were down in the dumps before this tournament. Cristiane and Formiga played like they were in their mid-20s. I didn’t think they’d win a single game.
Charles: I think Germany was worse than they could have done, but within the normal range.
Jason: Germany definitely underperformed. They seemed cooked the moment Maroszan got hurt.
Kudzi: Underperformers: Australia.
Charles: For individual players, if you didn’t know Lieke Martens had been the player of the year in 2017, you’d never have been able to guess it. Same with Van de Sanden, who has had one of the worst tournaments for a ‘star’ I can ever remember.
Stephanie: Germany whelmed me. Shanice was very Shanice on Wednesday.
Sophie: Van de Sanden isn’t good, she has had good games when everyone is watching but her average level is not good.
Charles: Ellen White has had a monster of a tournament. I don’t know if it’s an overperformance - she really is great - but it’s been really impressive.
Stephanie: I’m not surprised by White tbh.
Jason: I do like Brazil as an over-performer. Their Olds really decided to haul them further than their form promised. I’d also throw in the Dutch and Swedes, who are both 2nd tier teams that managed to go further than their talent level warranted. Sure, it helped that the bracket was very friendly, but they still did the job.
Stephanie: She’s an underrated striker who has flown just under the radar her whole career.
Sophie: Germany, had they gotten it right could have walked the tournament, such is their ability, but they imploded in a serious way.
Stephanie: Yes she’s been sharp this tourno but this level of performance is within her usual range of ability imo.
Charles: I think that’s right.
Kim: Lorena Benitez of Argentina is my over-performing player, she had no business being that good.
Stephanie: Tobin Heath is my underperforming player.
Charles: Benitéz is definitely on my list, too. And she even changed roles mid-tournament once they needed to go for the win, showing an impressive amount of versatility.
Kim: Fran Kirby is my under-performer, even if there were signs before the tournament that she was well off form. Phil Neville obviously expected her to be his key player and she didn’t match the level of her teammates.
Sophie: She was drek during her Notts County days - the fear was she had never quite comeback from her ACL injury- but after Emma Byrne broke her collar and she was sidelined for a good chunk of time (and left Notts when they dissolved) she completely rekindled her form. Is far more than a poacher, solid solid nose for a goal and understanding of where to be (within a toe).
Jason: Benitéz is a really good one. She was spectacular in the midfield. Hoping she gets a fully professional contract in Europe or NWSL.
Charles: Kirby was good for 30 minutes in England’s game against the US. With a chance to go longer in that game, she maybe could have paid back all the bad performances over the first five games. But the rest were pretty bad, so it was definitely a rough tournament overall.
Kim: I fear Kirby’s window to reach her full potential has passed and it’s Georgia Stanway’s time from now on.
Jason: I came into this tournament thinking Jesse Fleming might really become a bigger name internationally by being a standout, but I don’t think she really took advantage (though a lot of that is the conservative nature of their approach). She wasn’t bad by any stretch, but I don’t think the buzz grew at all.
Sophie: Kirby’s injuries since joining Chelsea have been rough but Stanway has been showing the goods for as long as Cushing has trusted her to play in WSL.
Fleming 100% flew under the radar this summer.
Kim: I think Fleming was screwed by her coach’s approach. You can see it in the stats. Her passing percentage is through the roof but she has basically no chances created. She was asked to play that way.
Charles: I haven’t been super impressed with Fleming for quite a while now. I want her to get out of college ASAP. Doesn’t seem like her game has developed at all. Though I suppose the Mallory Pugh Experience is a counterpoint there.
Stephanie: I do wonder what the Berenstain universe where Fleming turned pro at like 19 looks like.
Kim: Fleming has a 3.8 GPA in a UC engineering program so I’m not going to judge her too harshly until she’s done with that. If she values that degree, good for her.
Charles: Speaking of Beerensteyn, she’s been great as a substitute, but did approximately nothing with her chance to start, so maybe counts as another over+under-performer.
Stephanie: Beerensteyn has sauce but it didn’t translate into a goal last night. So.
Sophie: Her performances this summer were pretty typical of what she’s done at Munich, to be fair.
Jason: You know who over-achieved a bit? Allysha Chapman.
Charles: Yeah, I agree with that.
Stephanie: I mean she didn’t get red carded off so that was already beating expectations.
Sophie: Chapman, actually world class but she plays for the Dash so you wouldn’t know it...?
Kim: Janine Beckie over-achieved until her penalty was saved too. I really think Canada could have made the final with a good coach.
Stephanie: Okay predictions for the final: scores, who will be a key player, etc
Charles: USA wins 4-1. Horan as the key player running roughshod through the Dutch midfield.
Kim: The USWNT will ignore Jill Ellis’ orders to go into a defensive shell after going ahead and will continue to score until the Netherlands players leave the field sobbing. 8-0.
Sophie: The Dutch are going to die, just collectively fall to the pitch and die before the match even KOs.
Stephanie: USA 4-0. Megan Rapinoe will do a stroopwafel celly.
Jason: 2-0 USWNT. Same game we’ve seen, more or less: US throws everyone forward in pursuit of a lead, and gets it via Tobin Heath on a rebound in the 9th minute. Drop into a mid-block, Dutch are too tired to solve it, and Lavelle adds a second just before halftime. Score should probably be higher, but van Veenendaal robs Rapinoe and Morgan several times.
Kim: Jason’s answer is what I actually think will happen.
Bridget: I’m with Charles. 4-1 US, Horan MVP.
Charles: I hope that the game is more interesting than we’re predicting, but I don’t really see it. The US should win this game at a canter.
Jason: I’m trying to think of how the Netherlands could make it a game, but fitness is going to be a major factor, and there’s a clear gap between these teams. If the US finishes with 11 players, they’re gonna win.
Stephanie: If the weather report holds it’s going to be much hotter than the semis.
Oh wait maybe not. High in the mid 80s Sunday, that’s nothing.
Sophie: Circumstances dictate a USA win, think the Dutch will dig in but will come apart due to the schedule and the score will make it look like a comfortable one for the USA even if it’s not.
Lavelle will boss the hell out of it, Press will sit on the bench thinking, “What if?” as van de Donk shit-houses to the extreme before the Dutch media go in heavy on Miedema for not scoring enough and every one praises Ellis and the team despite the obvious and growing issues (cracks meet paper, etc)
Kim: I think Lavelle will start on the bench because of the hamstring and Mewis will do all the things y’all are saying.
Stephanie: I was watching the semi. And dreaming of Mewis breaking the game wide open with one pass out of midfield. Like trying not to fall asleep in NED v SWE.
Charles: My question is: if Naeher gets sent off for a DOGSO penalty in the 10th minute, would the US still win?
Stephanie: Don’t even put that energy into the universe Charles.
Jason: Straight up pretending the Lavelle hamstring situation is not real. Doublethink, protect me from this sadness.
Kim: Depends on if they bring on Harris or AD.
Sophie: I’m here for Mewis and/or Lavelle being the final MVPs but AlMo will inevitably win PotM - also, what odds that she goes down more than 50 times over 90 minutes?
Jason: I think the US would already have a lead before that red though. Think they’d take it on PKs in that scenario, with the Dutch too tired to do more than equalize.
Sandra Herrera: Think this game will be 4-1 USA, Carlo Lloyd subs on in 80 and probably scores the 4th.
Stephanie: No she’s Carlo now.
Kudzi: 2-1 to the Dutch! JK, 3-1 to the US. Key player will be JJ.
Sophie: JJ to bleed more than the Dutch cry?
Kudzi: Or she’ll get into it with VDD.
Sandra: 1st half touch pass from Ertz against England was quite dope. Whole bunch of open space and “lol not today” from her. Love a good fite.
Sophie: I can’t believe the world has been robbed of Donkey vs Mead in the 3rd place match.
Kim: I think Alex Morgan is going to score a goal and controversially win the golden ball.
Sophie: Quite honestly think there’s a world in which the Dutch take the match to the Americans and win but, they’ve built up zero momentum over the tournament, they flatly haven’t played well, their fans will be drowned out by the Americans, and they will be beyond exhausted. It doesn’t even feel like a fair match at this point in time, they should never have had a 3pm KO, not if they were the team with a day less recovery time - I know, tournament management but still.
Nah, White hat trick against Sweden B.
Kim: The best player on the USWNT has probably been Ertz or O’Hara, but we all know they won’t get it.
Kudzi: Defenders never win lol.
Kim: I was wrong Zidane did lol. I misremembered that because Canna won the FIFA WPOY over Zidane. So I just assumed he won the World Cup golden ball too.