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2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup

World Cup demons can’t be washed away, but USWNT’s win over Canada was cathartic

Naeher saving penalties, Smith converting one… the Gold Cup is not the World Cup, but the relief was palpable

USWNT's Sophia Smith celebrates a goal vs. Canada
Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing will ever erase the memories of the 2023 World Cup elimination the United States women’s national team experienced on Aug. 6 in Melbourne, Australia. The missed penalty kicks, and the subsequent save that wasn’t — “lost by a millimeter,” as an incredulous U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher repeated to cameras and microphones moments later under the stadium — cannot be rewritten.

“That’s a very painful memory and that will sit, probably, with all of us for a really long time,” U.S. interim coach Twila Kilgore, who was an assistant at that 2023 World Cup, said on Wednesday after her team’s advancement over Canada to the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup final.

Reminders of the U.S.’ Round-of-16 elimination to Sweden, marking the team’s worst finish in a major tournament, had come rushing back on Wednesday. Here again, on an “unplayable” rain-soaked field in San Diego for the Concacaf W Gold Cup semifinals, was a shootout with familiar protagonists.

Naeher was in goal again. Forward Sophia Smith, who scored the go-ahead goal for the U.S. in extra time on Wednesday, stepped up to take the first penalty for the Americans. Seven months earlier — to the day — Smith missed a penalty that would have clinched advancement to the quarterfinals for the United States. After Wednesday’s shootout victory over Canada, Smith was seen sobbing on the field.

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