U.S. beats England, advances to Women's World Cup final thanks to goalkeeping heroics

Alyssa Naeher was supposed to be the weakness. The Achilles heel. The insufficient Hope Solo replacement, the question mark, and so much more.

But on Tuesday, in the biggest game of her life, she was the hero. And the U.S. is headed to the 2019 Women’s World Cup final because of her.

Christen Press and Alex Morgan had given the U.S. a 2-1 lead over England in the first of two semifinals. Naeher then saved a late penalty to preserve the lead, and ultimately seal the win.

The Americans are now 90 minutes away from back-to-back world championships. They’ll play either Sweden or the Netherlands on Sunday (11 a.m. ET, Fox).

But first, they’ll savor a thrilling win that will be remembered as one of the games of the tournament.

U.S. gets another early goal

It took them 12 minutes against Thailand. Eleven against Chile. Three against Sweden, seven against Spain, and five against France.

On Tuesday, for the sixth consecutive World Cup game – and seventh dating back to 2015 – the U.S. again led early. Press needed less than 10 minutes to break the deadlock.

This, though, was a brilliant team goal. Tobin Heath picked out Rose Lavelle in a pocket of space. Lavelle let the ball run through her legs, into the path of Kelley O’Hara. O’Hara’s cross beat the English defense, and Press beat backup keeper Carly Telford:

Lavelle created the goal without even touching the ball. And she did plenty else with it at her feet as well.

Rose Lavelle dazzled, and the U.S.

The U.S. was the better team in the first half. And the talisman was Lavelle. Three minutes into the game, she humiliated Millie Bright, danced into the box, and tested Telford.

Later in the half, she caught two 20-yard shots really well. Telford’s palms kept one out of the back of the net. An English defender’s forehead foiled the other.

Throughout the half, she glided past opponents in midfield, as she’s done all tournament. She was the most influential player on the field, even if her name won’t show up on the scoresheet – until she exited with what appeared to be a hamstring injury after an hour.

And the Americans, in part thanks to her excellence, were on top ... until they weren’t.

England equalizes, and ascends

As it had done against France, the U.S. gradually began to sit back after the early goal. And it paid the price. It gave England’s Keira Walsh loads of space at the base of midfield.

With neither Lindsey Horan or Julie Ertz stepping up to pressure the ball, Walsh picked out Beth Mead on the left. Mead crossed for Ellen White, whose redirection pinged in off the post.

Before and after the equalizer, England found a foothold in the game. At 1-1, Walsh tested U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher with a slicing drive. Naeher, though, was up to the task.

U.S. retakes the lead

The game swung again just after the half-hour mark – and again thanks to a superb team move. Abby Dahlkemper bypassed England’s midfield with a pinpoint cross-field ball to Press. Pressed played to Horan, whose cross was flicked home by Morgan:

U.S. hangs on thanks to Naeher and VAR

The second half was less eventful. But two events nearly brought England level again.

First, White had the ball in the back of the net – but she was inches offside:

The video assistant referee notified the head referee, who disallowed the goal.

Then, with 12 minutes remaining, VAR worked against the Americans. Replays showed that Becky Sauerbrunn clipped White’s heel as she tried to connect with a slow cross:

But Naeher, in the biggest of moments, came up even bigger. The oft-criticized keeper dove right and corralled Steph Houghton’s penalty. Her teammates mobbed her. After England was reduced to 10 players by Millie Bright’s red card, they saw out the win. And they are 90 minutes from returning to the top of the women’s soccer world.

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USWNT highlights from the Women's World Cup
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Sari Van Veenendaal of the Netherlands reaches for the ball as Rose Lavelle of the USA scores her team's second goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Alex Morgan of the USA is fouled by Stefanie Van der Gragt of the Netherlands leading to a penalty during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates with teammate Alex Morgan after scoring her team's first goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Alex Caparros - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Megan Rapinoe of the USA celebrates with teammates after scoring her team's first goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United State of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Naomi Baker - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
United States' Alex Morgan, left, competes for the ball against France's Elise Bussaglia during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher (1) deflects the ball away from France's Valerie Gauvin during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
United States' Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring her side's second goal during the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between France and the United States at the Parc des Princes, in Paris, Friday, June 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Players of England celebrate after winning the Women's World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Norway and England at the Oceane stadium in Le Havre, France, Thursday, June 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
United States' Kelley O Hara leaps over Sweden's Kosovare Asllani during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between Sweden and the United States at Stade Océane, in Le Havre, France, Thursday, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 16: Julie Ertz of USA #8 celebrates her goal with Mallory Pugh, Lindsey Horan, Morgan Brian during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Chile at Parc des Princes stadium on June 16, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)
LE HAVRE, FRANCE - JUNE 20: Lindsey Horan of the USA scores her team's first goal the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between Sweden and USA at Stade Oceane on June 20, 2019 in Le Havre, France. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)
United States' Carli Lloyd, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring their side's third goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between United States and Chile at Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Sunday, June 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Chile goalkeeper Claudia Endler lunges for the ball to make a safe during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between United States and Chile at Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Sunday, June 16, 2019. US won 3-0. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
United States' Carli Lloyd celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between the United States and Chile at the Parc des Princes in Paris, Sunday, June 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
United States' Carli Lloyd, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between United States and Chile at Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Lloyd scored twice in US' 3-0 victory. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
United States' Megan Rapinoe, right, congratulates teammate Alex Morgan after scoring her fifth goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between the United States and Thailand at the Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
United States' Alex Morgan, centre, scores her team's fifth goal during the Women's World Cup Group F soccer match between the United States and Thailand at the Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Mallory Pugh of USA shots to goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Megan Rapinoe of United States of America celebrates with the supporters after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Mallory Pugh of the USA celebrates after scoring her team's eleventh goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Cathrin Mueller - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Final score on the scoreboard after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
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Henry Bushnell is a features writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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