The job for the United States women’s soccer team on Tuesday is clear, because that job never changes. The United States must get past Portugal to advance at the Women’s World Cup because that it what is needed, what is expected, what is required.
“We feel like we have to win everything all the time,” U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said this week. “That’s the expectation for ourselves. That’s the expectation playing for the U.S. women’s national team. It’s just kind of, why are you coming to the World Cup if you don’t think you should win it? And if you don’t think you can win it?”
They do not technically need to win, of course. A tie will be enough to get the Americans through to the round of 16, and even a loss could do it in the unlikely event that the Netherlands loses to Vietnam at the same time. But the United States women’s team doesn’t go looking for ties, or side doors. Its ethos is to win, and to make memories.
Every World Cup has its moments. Predictable moments and painful moments. Surprising moments and iconic moments. Rapinoe, who is at her fourth World Cup, has seen them all. She has created more than a few of them. But Rapinoe also recognizes, perhaps better than anyone at this year’s tournament, when one has arrived.
And Tuesday, a game when the United States can win its group and find its footing over 90 minutes or stumble and perhaps — unlikely, yes, but possible — even exit the World Cup, is one of those moments. Rapinoe, whether she plays in the game or not, is embracing it. She is, truly, welcoming it.
“It’s a pressure moment,” she said. “And that’s what the tournament is now. Every single game from here on out is a pressure moment. And that’s the best part of being at the World Cup.”
“We go into these moments like: ‘Hell yeah,’” she added. “This is exactly where we want to be.’
It will not, however, be the kind of stroll U.S. fans have come to expect in the group stage. The United States is a team in transition, a mix of veteran World Cup champions and fresh-faced World Cup rookies that has struggled both to dominate weaker teams and to unlock stronger ones.
It a team that has not found it easy to score goals, either: The Americans haven’t score more than three goals in a game since January, and haven’t scored six in a match since 2021. But they might need a bunch on Tuesday, when the Netherlands will try to bury Vietnam on the scoreboard to catch the United States on goal difference, the potential tiebreaker in the group standings if both teams win. (The U.S. and the Netherlands also can each advance with a draw.)
Portugal will be ready to prevent that: It held the Netherlands to a single goal last week and frustrated England, the European champion, in a scoreless tie in early July. It will, its coach said this week, be ready to put up a fight.
But what Portugal wants to do, what the Netherlands wants to do, was not the primary concern this week for Rapinoe, or her teammates, or her coach, Vlatko Andonovski. The United States knows it has arrived at a special moment in this World Cup. All it has to do now, the players said, is seize it.
“We have a job to do, and that is first and foremost, take care of our game,” Andonovski said.
“We don’t want to look two, three four steps forward,” he added. “This is the first step. Let’s make sure we get in the next stage. Because if we start thinking too far ahead, our chance may never come.”