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Despite error, Adrianna Franch impresses teammates, coach in first USWNT cap

Adrianna Franch dives to stop a shot during warm-ups on Saturday, March 2, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

NASHVILLE — Saturday was lining up to be a near-perfect day for Adrianna Franch.

Her fiancé was in town to watch her play with the United States women’s national team in the SheBelieves Cup in Nashville. And Franch would get to wear the last name of her childhood idol, Briana Scurry, on the back of her kit because of a promotion the team was doing. Each player wore the name of a woman that inspired them.

“I watched the ’99 World Cup. I was 9,” Franch said. “I thought about this hard and who I looked up to as a kid, and it was her. That’s who I wanted to be.”

While Franch knew her fiancé would be in the stands and that she’d get to wear that special jersey, she didn’t know – until just a few days before – she’d also get her first national team cap in the Music City.

She became just the eighth goalkeeper to start for the team since 2001, joining an elite group that includes Scurry.

“It’s a beautiful experience to get the first cap and represent her name,” Franch said.

Unfortunately, Saturday in Nashville didn’t have a perfect ending. Like Andre 3000 once said, “You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.”

The U.S. drew 2-2 with England, and after the match, the attitude among U.S. players marching through the tunnel at Nissan Stadium seemed like a sour one. It was a draw that felt much more like a loss.

“It’s not the result that we wanted, but we’ll learn from it and move forward,” Franch said.

Still, the day was an important step for Franch. Aside from a costly mistake that resulted in a goal, she played well and kept a talented England team at bay for most of the day. As the 2019 World Cup in France looms, Franch showed that she can be relied on.

U.S. head coach Jill Ellis was committed to giving Alyssa Naeher the start in goal in all three SheBelieves Cup games, but the 30-year-old from Penn State suffered a shoulder injury during a draw against Japan in the tournament opener in Chester, Pa., Feb. 27.

Suddenly, Ellis had a choice to make. In Nashville, she could either go with veteran Ashlyn Harris, a proven commodity who was a backup to Hope Solo on the 2015 World Cup team, or Franch, who had never been capped.

It was time. Ellis wanted to see what she had in the 28-year-old Franch.

“It’s getting an opportunity, whether your hand is forced or not, but it’s an answer that we wanted and needed. And we wanted (Franch) to have a cap,” Ellis said. “I thought AD had been really good in training. And I’ve seen Ashlyn, so it was giving AD an opportunity.”

On short notice, Franch impressed. The 5-foot-9 Kansas native mostly played well and looked comfortable, but made an error in the 36th minute. Mallory Pugh played a pass backward to the defense, but a pair of U.S. defenders let the ball roll to Franch and she picked it up. A referee whistled and awarded England with an indirect free kick.

“I was on the sideline and I was watching it, so I feel like maybe that could’ve gone either way,” U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn said. “You could say that it wasn’t a direct backpass to the goalkeeper. It was kind of an in-betweener. It’s unfortunate.”

England’s captain, Steph Houghton, curved the ball through a crack in the defense and into the net. Franch stretched out for an admirable attempt at a save, but it was a shot that few goalkeepers on the planet could’ve halted.

After the match, Franch acknowledged her blunder, but wanted to move on quickly. She said she didn’t call off the two defenders who let the ball roll through, but she wasn’t about to use that as an excuse, either.

“It was just a little mishap and we’ll learn from it,” Franch said. “We keep learning from our mistakes and strengths.”

The second ball Franch allowed in the net came in the 52nd minute. After the U.S. was dispossessed in its own half, a few one-touch passes threw the Stars and Stripes’ defense into a frenzy and Nikita Parris slipped through unmarked on the right side. She sliced a ball by Franch, beating her with a low shot to the far post.

“We did a lot of good things out there, but it’s not good enough,” Franch said. “It’s not the result we wanted.”

Franch tallied two saves on the day and the U.S. equalized. Despite her error, Ellis and Franch’s teammates were impressed, especially considering the circumstances.

“Other than the one error of picking up the ball — which again, is a valuable freaking lesson — I thought she had good presence in there and in the kicking game,” Ellis said. “For her first game, I thought she was solid.”

Added Tierna Davidson: “I think she played really well. She was really calm with her feet, very composed under the pressure the forwards were giving her, and that’s a lot that we ask of our keepers, to be able to possess off the back. That’s very important for us.”

Sauerbrunn chimed in too, saying, “For her first cap, this is a tough game to come into and I thought she handled it really well. (Picking up the back pass is) something you’re going to learn from and probably never do again.”

It’s been a long journey for Franch to get her first cap with the U.S. national team. She started getting invited to U.S. camps at the U-20 level in 2010 when she was playing college ball at Oklahoma State, where she was twice a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, twice an All-American and a four-time All-Big 12 selection.

Franch became the first goalkeeper taken in the National Women’s Soccer League draft when the Western New York Flash selected her with the sixth overall pick in 2013. Franch tallied six saves in her debut and was seen as a rising star in the sport, but a knee injury forced her to miss the 2014 season. After a year off, and then a season where she played for a club in Norway, Franch returned to the NWSL with the Portland Thorns in 2016. Since then, she’s helped the Thorns win the NWSL Shield in 2016, the championship in 2017 and she’s twice been named the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year.

2019 could be a big year for Franch’s soccer career. She has her first national team cap and soon, she’ll report to camp with the Thorns to try and help them reach the NWSL final again, which they lost last year to the North Carolina Courage.

And she has a real shot in making Ellis’ roster for the World Cup. Three goalkeepers will go and Franch is slotted in third place on the depth chart.

Should something like Naeher’s shoulder injury occur in France, Ellis now knows she can rely on Franch to be ready to play at a high level with little notice.

“The goalkeeper position is hard. At the end of the day, all three of us . . .  That’s what we work for every day,” Franch said. “You try to have the same preparation because, I mean, a goalkeeper can get injured in a warmup or anything like that. You have to be prepared.”

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