MONTREAL -- The match was won, a formidable opponent had been vanquished, yet Julie Johnston's emotions were still on edge. That's what happens when you're at the Women's World Cup, you stare defeat in the face and you live to survive another day.
The U.S. women prevailed over Germany 2-0 in their Women's World Cup semifinal thanks to an impressive team performance. Carli Lloyd converted a pressure-packed penalty, and substitute Kelley O'Hara added an invaluable insurance tally to send the United States into Sunday's final.
But Johnston narrowly avoided the tournament's grim reaper. A player who had done nothing but make good decisions throughout the tournament made a bad choice in the 59th minute. As Johnston attempted to nod the ball back to goalkeeper Hope Solo, Alexandra Popp slipped in to intercept the pass. Johnston pulled Popp's shoulder back, down the German midfielder went, and it was an easy penalty decision for referee Teodora Albon.
"I wish I could have that moment back," said Johnston, who shed tears after the call and barely kept her emotions in check in the post-match mixed zone with the media. "It definitely was probably one of a defender's worst nightmares."
But then the soccer gods intervened. Albon showed Johnston a yellow card, even though a red would have been completely justified. A seemingly interminable wait ensued, with goalkeeper Hope solo engaging in some delay tactics. and Johnston's mind was elsewhere.
"I was just trying to breathe, I'm not going to lie," she said. "I was just thinking, 'Ricochets, ricochets. Hope is the world's best goalkeeper, [she's] in goal, I just need to do my job.' That's all I could think about. And hold back some feelings."
Then Celia Sasic, as clinical a penalty taker as there is in the women's game, skewed her spot kick off target.
"It was definitely an emotional roller coaster, as I'm sure you saw," Johnston said.
In the interim, Johnston's teammates came over to offer encouragement. while Lloyd took a tough-love approach.
"I remember telling her, 'No time for tears, we've got a game to play,'" Lloyd said.
But Becky Sauerbrunn provided the most comfort of all. She simply smiled and told Johnston it was fine. Perhaps it was the solidarity that comes from a fellow center back, the knowledge that the very nature of the position means that usually only the mistakes are remembered. Or perhaps it was Sauerbrunn's calming demeanor. Either way, it did the trick.
"Becky's my backbone," Johnston said. "She keeps me sane. She's a warrior. I just always want to play well for her and the back line. Seeing her look at me and smile, other than the opposite way, really like made me take a deep breath and kind of just reevaluate that we're still in this game.
"It was a lot. The emotion, just to think that it was a possibility that I hurt the team and it was on my shoulders, yeah."
Forward Abby Wambach noted that she gave Johnston a prescient pep talk before the match, reminding the defender that everyone on the field makes mistakes, but not to worry because her teammates would always be there.
"I think I'm a clairvoyant that I can see something maybe happening in the future," Wambach joked before turning serious. "She needed to know that her teammates would have her back."
They did in this match, and will continue to so afterward, all the way to the Women's World Cup final Sunday in Vancouver.