Thrilling Sudden Death Shootout Victory Propels USWNT into the Final

Images courtesy of Rodrigo Jaramillo and Getty Images/FIH

July 20, 2017, 3:52 p.m. (ET)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – July 20, 2017 – Under the lights at Wits University, the U.S. Women’s National Team took on No. 2 England in the second semifinal match of the FIH Hockey World League Semifinals. The 60-minute battle was a testament of the competitive nature of both squads as England found the backboard in the opening minute of the second quarter and USA’s persistence attack located the equalizer in the 57th minute. As the first round of shootouts finished tied at 1-1, USA netted their first and saved England's attempt for a thrilling sudden death victory.

"It was a great team effort and I am really proud of the way we stuck to our game plan," said Jackie Briggs (Robesonia, Pa.), USWNT's goalkeeper. "We didn't let frustration set in when we were fighting for the goal. Something special about this team is we have a lot of belief. Even though we may be young, we stick together and rely on each other and never stop fighting."

Encompassing majority of the recent Rio 2016 Olympic Gold Medalists from Great Britain, USA knew they needed to stay composed while having well communication to challenge England. The first quarter saw opportunities for both teams as USA earned the first circle penetration of the game. England would get multiple entries of their own but USA’s defensive unit held strong to make the tackles. Quick passing performance by USA was successful working the ball into the attacking 25 but England limited the threats. The first quarter finished locked at zeros.

Using quickness, England took possession at the start of the second quarter into their attacking end. Just a minute in, an England striker successfully received the ball and backhand dumped it to Hannah Martin who slipped it in to make it USA 0, England 1. USA responded with positive forward movement and in the 21st minute earned their first penalty corner. Although the opportunity did not produce an outcome, USA stayed collected and picked up some key intercepts in the middle of the field that led to instant offense. As time ticked closer to halftime, USA kept working it into their attacking circle but the score stood at halftime.

USA started the third quarter with a high tempo eager to put a stamp on the game. Holding possession for majority of the opening minutes, USA struggled to find the final forward pass. Breakthroughs continued for USA but England remained low and collected to gather the chances and clear them.

Persistence sustained in the fourth quarter, as USA knew they needed to continue to work hard on the search for an outcome. Chance after chance came for USA as they showcased relentless play with positive circle entries. A penalty circle sequence fell in favor of USA but the ball wouldn’t cross the goal line. Staying composed when England would counter attack the other way, USA was defensively smart making key intercepts. In the 56th minute, England’s Lily Owsley was given a yellow card for pushing sending her off the field for 5 minutes and the remainder of the match. USA took advantage of the situation and off an intercept in the middle of the field Jill Witmer (Lancaster, Pa.) tracked with speed, passed it to Michelle Vittese (Cherry Hill, N.J.) who entered the circle took a backhand and Witmer was there on the rebound to get the equalizer. USA threatened in the final minutes but was unable to find the go-ahead goal as the game finished tied at 1-1 to send it into shootouts.

Set to go first, Melissa Gonzalez (Mohegan Lake, N.Y.) netted her attempt as the remaining USA efforts would be blocked. On the defending side, USA goalkeeper Briggs saved the first four of England’s shootouts but they notched the fifth sending it into a sudden death round.

With England fixed to go first, Briggs came up big blocking England’s Alex Danson shot. Next up was Gonzalez who stayed composed over the ball and swept it into the net over a sliding England goalkeeper Maddie Hinch to earn the thrilling sudden death victory propelling USA into to the FIH Hockey World League Semifinals Final game.

"During the shootout, I just tried to stay in the moment and do my best to get behind the ball," commented Briggs, on the shootout. "I am very proud of Melissa for converting twice to put us in the Final."

The USWNT will face Germany in the final on Sunday, July 23 at 9:30 a.m. EST. For more information on the event including schedule, results and live stream, visit the FIH Hockey World League Semifinals event page on usafieldhockey.com. All USWNT games can be watched on the live broadcast provided by ESPN3/Watch EPSN.