AUCKLAND, New Zealand — United States midfielder Savannah DeMelo can speak some Portuguese and may be able to put it to use in the Women's World Cup.
The U.S. plays Portugal on Tuesday to wrap up the tournament's group stage, and a fter a disappointing 1-1 draw against the Netherlands, the Americans needs a win. At stake is both the top spot in Group E and also a much-needed boost to team confidence.
That's where DeMelo can help.
The 25-year-old's dad, Robert, is from Portugal and had a successful career as a player in that country before becoming a coach. DeMelo has dual citizenship and understands Portuguese.
“I'll definitely be listening for it,” she laughed.
DeMelo made her first international start for the United States against Vietnam in the group opener, a 3-0 victory for the Americans.
Prior to the World Cup, DeMelo had played in only one other match for the United States: she was a substitute in the team’s send-off match against Wales in San Jose in early July. DeMelo, who plays for Racing Louisville FC in the National Women's Soccer League, was the first U.S. player since Shannon Boxx in 2003 and third overall to be named to the World Cup roster without any previous appearances for the national team.
U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski started DeMelo in the both of the American's World Cup matches. She played both opening halves before being subbed off for veteran Rose Lavelle, who has been playing limited minutes for the United States because of a knee injury suffered in April.
The journey from being named to the team to getting a start in the World Cup has “been a crazy roller coaster of emotions," said DeMelo.
“But I think I've had a lot of great people, including the girls on the team, who have been super helpful with getting me acclimated to the team," she said. "And I'm just super grateful to be here."
The United States may need to switch up its tactics against Portugal.
The Americans are tied on points with the Netherlands in Group E and have an advantage over the Dutch on goal difference. The top two teams in the group advance to the knockout round.
But the results haven't been as emphatic as they were in 2019, when the U.S. opened with a 13-0 victory over Thailand and went on to win their second straight World Cup title, and fourth overall.
The United States trailed the Netherlands by a goal in the first half before Lindsey Horan scored a game-tying header in the 62nd minute.
One reason for the less-than-dominant play could be inexperience. DeMelo is among 14 U.S. players appearing in their first World Cup.
Fellow midfielder Andi Sullivan, who is also making her tournament debut, said it takes some adjustment to play together as newcomers.
“That's definitely a challenge that we're going through, is that we just kind of came together,” Sullivan said. "It's not like a team that you're training with all year round, constantly. You're in and out all the time. So I think you're constantly adjusting.
“But the way that you get in sync is we watch a lot of stuff together, we communicate constantly. We're very direct when something's not going the way we want it to go," Sullivan added. "You have to be direct and clear and honest and loud.”
DeMelo is also among six players at the World Cup who play for Racing Louisville. Among the Racing Louisville representatives are Ary Borges, who scored a hat trick for Brazil in its 4-0 victory over Panama to start the tournament.
DeMelo, who said her father never pushed her into soccer growing up, could have played for Portugal at the senior level.
“It could have been an option,” she said, “but I think my heart was always with the United States.”