When the referee blew for full time in the Bayil Stadium in Baku, the USA players could barely hold back the tears as they stared disconsolately down at the turf. It turned out that their draw against Korea DPR would not be enough to make it through to the quarter-finals, after France pulled off a sensational 10-2 win over Gambia to go through on goal difference.
Playmaker Morgan Andrews found this early exit particularly tough, after everything she had gone through with her team. "Honestly it hurts so much to have to go home and to not further our journey together. It’s a tournament that has been our goal for years and has been our goal to win," she said after the match to FIFA.com.
"We gave it our all but we do know that we are going to heal from this. The pain will eventually go away, it may take some time but we’re going to heal and we’re going to learn. We’re going to move on and we’re going to become better for it."
All for one and one for all
Remarkable maturity for a 17-year-old, and a quality that will serve her in good stead in her future career. "I just stood up and said that I loved my team because, honestly, I’ve never been with a team that’s closer than us," said Andrews, USA's captain for two of their three group matches.
"I said that I’ve got 20 new sisters and I’ll never forget them and we’ll never forget each other. We’ll always be family and we know we’ll always be there for each other."
These words very much sum up the team spirit within the American camp, which is what Andrews and her squad-mates will be remembered for, despite the fact that they did not make it into the next phase.
"We never gave up," continued the Stars and Stripes No10. "We had confidence right up until the final whistle and we just weren’t going to quit – that’s not what this team is about. We never let each other down and I feel that every single person, whether they were on the bench or whether they started, gave everything they had. They just gave everything for the rest of the team and everyone did their job today."
And despite the fact that the Americans won the recent FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Japan and the full international team took gold at the Women's Olympic Tootball Tournament, Andrews stated her and her "sisters" did not feel the weight of any extra expectation.
"We didn’t feel any pressure just because we know we have our support systems at home, our families and our friends, and we have each other. So it was just really about working for those people and working for ourselves," said Andrews, who is as active off the field as on it for the good of the game, having set up her own charity, entitled 'Kicks for Cans', three years ago.
"I have a soccer clinic that I run every few months," she explained. "We do it for young children and there is no fee for them to come into the training – they are just asked to bring canned goods for our local food pantry. We don't deny any children that come along, even if they don't bring food.
"Our motto is 'feed the goal'," she went on. "We just like to see the kids doing something they love and making a difference in the community." Further proof, if it was needed, that this US squad and Andrews in particular have something special about them.
"France and Korea DPR are great teams," the midfielder concluded magnanimously. "We played both of them and it was just such an honour. Both were great sides and I definitely think both will go far in the tournament."