Welcome to the Women’s World Cup! There’s plenty of drama, of course

The IX: Soccer Monday with Annie M. Peterson, July 24, 2023

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — I’m on the ground in Auckland and when you’re reading this, I think having just spent the overnight in the U.S. covering the match between Argentina and Italy — but frankly, the time zone thing just confuses me! The World Clocks on my phone helps, though.

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The 2023 Women’s World Cup got off to a tragic start when a gunman stormed a construction site a short walk from here (in downtown Auckland) and killed two people. He was killed after a police shootout.

I got an alert on my phone about 7:30 a.m. telling me to stay inside. Then I heard the helicopters, and the constant sirens. I walked down later when it was safe, but couldn’t see much. Roads were closed all around the site.

Just the day before, I was in an Uber and the driver was telling me how safe Auckland was. “We don’t have guns everywhere like in America,” he said. That’s why the shooting was so shocking to locals here.

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After a gala opening ceremony, a moment of silence for the victims was held. And then co-hosts New Zealand beat Norway 1-0.

The Ferns were clearly pumped up for their first game despite losing all but one of their 11 straight matches heading into the tournament. Norway’s midfielder looked disorganized and although Ada Hegerberg had some good chances, ultimately the Norwegians couldn’t finish.

Afterward, captain Ali Riley cried happy tears.

“To see the way we performed and fought, the resilience of the this team, how gritty the effort, the sprinting. Everything. That is the kind of performance we wanted to show. That’s who we are. And that is how we can inspire young girls. That is how we can make our nation proud and hopefully change the sporting culture in this country.”

New Zealand is proud!

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My next game was the USWNT’s opener against Vietnam. The press room was packed three hours before the game. Remember back to the 2015 opener in Winnipeg? The number of reporters covering the Women’s World Cup has at the very least doubled, and possibly tripled since then. That’s awesome to see. (I’d post photos by there’s a very strict media room supervisor that won’t let us the media take still pictures, which isn’t actually against the rules. I mean, we have photographers here. but so far, that’s my only complaint.)

There were a couple of surprises before the match even kicked off. Savannah DeMelo started for the United States. It was her first-ever start for the team.

There was also another notable move: Julie Ertz was moved to center back. Coach Vlatko Andonovski said the move was made to help shore up the defense in the absence of Becky Sauerbrunn.

“Julie has experience she’s played the big games at center back. We know in 2015 she played center back and this team was very successful. She was very good at the team was very successful. The back line was very synchronized. And when we knew that Becky was not going to be able to make it, that’s something that we started looking into even even deeper. We had a conversation with Julie, before we even before we tried it, did a lot of work before we even got in camp in terms of video analysis on both sides. We were helping her out but also she wanted to she wanted to get adjusted, committed as soon as possible.”

The night of the game, New Zealand’s team hotel was evacuated because of a fire. I followed up on the story on Sunday, and it turns out it wasn’t just one fire, but several little fires. A 34-year-old man was arrested.

As of now, we don’t know if there was any connection to the World Cup. The players were evacuated and some encountered smoke heading down the fire exits.

“Yeah, one of the fire exits was a bit smoky but the majority of us got down the other safe exit and we exited the building perfectly fine,” said defender CJ Bott.

New Zealand has additional security measures in place and is working with FIFA.

It’s chilly here.

This was cool!

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Because there are a ton of reporters here — (Editor’s note: including several of our friends at The Equalizer!) — there’s a lot of content being produced so I’m just gonna hit the highlights.

I wrote a follow-up story on Sophia Smith after her big World Cup splash.

The Equalizer’s Blair Newman with the analysis from the opener.

Also from The Equalizer: Even a nervous Sophia Smith looks unstoppable.

Story from my colleague James Robson on England’s opener.

USA Today writes about Ertz’s shift.

Canada’s Olivia Smith goes pro, heads to Portugal.

Pardeep Cattry on Ertz returning to her roots.

The Matildas rally around Sam Kerr.

Canada is off to a tough start at the World Cup.

Interesting story from the Athletic on women who play esports.

The Athletic’s Kudzi Musarura write about how Ertz’s move makes sense.

My game story.

Good story from AP on the first player at the World Cup to wear a hijab.

ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle rates the players after the opener.

ESPN writes about the Earps jersey controversy. I understand what she’s saying, but Nike has never sold goalkeeper jerseys, for the men or women. And honestly, she’s an adidas athlete.

Kevin Baxter of the LA Times says US flaws were exposed, but the team isn’t worried.

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FIVE AT THE IX: Sophia Smith

Here’s Sophia Smith’s comments after the US victory. After every match they bring the Player of the Match into the press conference room for exactly three questions.

Question: This was your World Cup debut. You scored two goals and assisted the other. How’s it feel? What’s kind of going through your head right now and what are you looking forward to?

Smith: I mean, I feel good. I think it was a good starting point for our team in this tournament. I also know that we have a lot more that we can give a lot more to do little things to work on. So I think it’s a good place to start and personally, it was good to just get a World Cup game under my belt, kind of see how it felt, know what to expect. But yeah, I think it honestly just makes me more excited for the next game.

Question: I’m just wondering if you could describe your connection with Horan on the field.

Smith: I love playing with Lindsay she’s such a great player. She has such a good eye for a lot of things that a lot of players don’t see. She understands my game. She understands the runs that I’m making before I even make them so it’s an honor to play with Lindsey and it’s it’s a lot of fun. Just kind being from Colorado together it makes it a little more special. But yeah, it’s definitely a fun partnership when that’s gotten better over time and I’m excited to see where it goes

Question: Sophia, you have a bit of a New Zealand connection I believe.

Smith: Well, I mean, not blood, but my boyfriend’s half Kiwi and his mom is from Wellington. His whole mom’s side of the family is in Wellington.

Question: Are they supporting you here?

Smith: Yeah, his mom and his brother were here.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Annie Peterson