England prove their might against USWNT side in transition at Wembley

LONDON -- Reigning European champions England added another notch to their goalposts with a win over the current World Cup champions, the United States, in a friendly at Wembley Stadium. The Lionesses prevailed 2-1, with Georgia Stanway's penalty the difference after Lauren Hemp and Sophia Smith had both struck.

- Report: England 2-1 United States

Here are the major takeaways from a gripping October international friendly between two of the world's best women's national teams as both sides prepare for the 2023 Women's World Cup.

JUMP TO: Player ratings | Best/worst performers | Highlights and notable moments | Post-match quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures

Rapid Reaction

1. England prove themselves against world champions

Who is the big dog in world football? That was the question coming into what was still, at the end of the day, just a friendly match with little fundamentally riding on it.

England's narrow win could go down as a result for the European Champions, who matched the visitors well, but it was a little bigger than that. It serves as a wider example not just of the team showing they were no longer afraid of a U.S. team known for making opponents uncomfortable, but of the ability of the team to be more fluid in Sarina Wiegman's system. The choice of Lauren Hemp at centre-forward following Ellen White's retirement and Alessia Russo's late injury should have left the attack unbalanced, yet the winger showed her intelligence throughout even if the defence looked less than perfect with Williamson out of it.

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For the U.S., who are still trying to recover from a disastrous showing (by their own standards) at the Olympics over a year ago, the match again raised more questions than it answered. Even where Sophia Smith and Naomi Girma shone for their country, doing all they could to book their tickets to the World Cup next summer, the fragility of a midfield lacking long-term absentee Julie Ertz proved to be the difference.

2. U.S. fall foul of VAR

With VAR not as widespread in women's football as in the men's game, there is still a novelty that comes of a referee pausing to run across to a pitch-side monitor and question their own judgement. Riem Hussein, who fell into a VAR row when she awarded Ellen White a penalty against Norway at the Euros, was again the topic of conversation at Wembley as she halted the game to confer with the VAR twice in the first half and once after the break.

The German official first jogged over to the monitor to review a high boot Lucy Bronze had taken to the face, opting to award a penalty to England and a yellow card to Hailie Mace upon review. Then, when the U.S. looked to have pulled level late in the half, the restart was delayed as those in the technical booth confirmed a barely visible offside in the build-up, before later chalking off a penalty she had awarded for a handball that had struck Hemp on the rear.

With the technology used at major tournaments in women's football, there were few complaints about its application at such a friendly nor could the foul on Bronze be heavily disputed, yet it was exactly the type of contact that should have been picked up in real time. Similarly, the penalty Hussein awarded the U.S. didn't look to have been anywhere near Hemp's arm as she jumped, very much rear-first in front of the shot. The involvement of the video assistant, as ever, only served to raise the question about refereeing standards in the game.

3. Sloppy football reigns supreme

There was an uncomfortable sloppiness to the match that inexplicably bore some of the trademarks of a preseason friendly. Players ran into each other, fell over under no pressure and at one point, Millie Bright gloriously and unwittingly blocked a shot with her backside. In a match that was billed as a quasi or would-be World Cup final, there was a thick layer of polish missing from the perfectly curated Wembley pitch.

There were, of course, off-the-pitch distractions to be taken into account, just as there were moments of magic when the likes of Sophia Smith and Georgia Stanway got on the ball. However, the clumsy nature of the match shone through as England got to grips with being the champions of Europe and the U.S. continued to search for a clear identity under Vlatko Andonovski.

Player ratings

England (4-2-3-1): Mary Earps 5; Lucy Bronze 5, Millie Bright 5, Alex Greenwood 6, Rachel Daly 6; Georgia Stanway 8, Keira Walsh 7; Beth Mead 7, Fran Kirby 6, Chloe Kelly 6; Lauren Hemp 7.
Subs: Ella Toone 6, Lauren James 6.

United States (4-3-3): Alyssa Naeher 5; Sofia Huerta 7, Alana Cook 5, Naomi Girma 7, Emily Fox 5; Trinity Rodman 6, Lindsey Horan 6, Andi Sullivan 6; Rose Lavelle 6, Sophia Smith 8, Megan Rapinoe 7.
Subs: Hailie Mace 4, Sam Coffey 6, Crystal Dunn 6, Ashley Sanchez 6, Becky Sauerbrunn 6, Alyssa Thompson 6.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Sophia Smith, FW, U.S.

A live wire for the U.S. all afternoon who has parried her silky club form into the international level. Really deserved more than one goal.

WORST: Hailie Mace, DF, U.S.

A forced first-half substitute for Fox, Mace spent the majority of the match looking off the pace and out of place in the defence.

Highlights and notable moments

Both teams put on a firm display of solidarity and protest before the game, in light of a difficult week for sports following Monday's release of the Yates report and its spotlight on misconduct and systemic abuse across the NWSL.

It looked like they'd be tied 2-2 before halftime after a thrilling display of attacking power ... but how on earth is this offside?

After the match: What the managers, players said

"That was really intense, just what we wanted. The U.S. played as we expected, they gave us hard times sometimes. I thought we played well in moments, better first half than second. ... Whatever happens we know this is just a starting point for the World Cup, but it shows you are at a very high level." -- England manager Sarina Wiegman

"I thought we did really well, especially in the first half. We created a lot of chances and were fantastic off the ball as well. We all put in a shift today, and it was a great result. Important we stay grounded now, another game on Tuesday and we're looking forward to that." -- England forward Lauren Hemp

Key stats

- The U.S. are 0-3-3 (W-L-D) when conceding first in their past six matches. Their last win when conceding first was on Aug. 2, 2018, vs. Brazil (4-1).

- The victory extended England's unbeaten run to 23 games in all competitions

Up next

England: Sarina Wiegman's side face a friendly with the Czech Republic on Tuesday following the visit of the USWNT to Wembley. From there, the Lionesses and defending Euros champions are idle until November, when they'll face a pair of friendlies against Japan (Nov. 11) and Norway (Nov. 15).

United States: The U.S. have another road game ahead against Spain on Tuesday, with home friendlies in November against the Euro 2022 runners-up Germany scheduled for Nov. 10 and Nov. 13. "Playing Germany in the final matches of the year will be ideal for our World Cup preparations for all of our players and coaching staff, but it's also fantastic for all the fans," U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. "USA-Germany is always one of the most entertaining matchups in women's international soccer, and it's a rivalry that has some wonderful history as well."