'I was in shock!' - How USWNT alternate Williams went from World Cup woe to Olympic joy

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When Lynn Williams was named a starter for Friday’s Olympic quarter-final against Netherlands, plenty of observers were surprised – perhaps none more than Williams herself.

“I was in shock!” the 28-year-old admitted at the post-match press conference. "My first thought was, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to get to see the field more!'"

Williams entered the game having made just one appearance in the U.S. women's national team's three group-stage matches, totaling 16 minutes of action.

But head coach Vlatko Andonovski rolled the dice and gave Williams – who wasn’t even named to the team’s original 18-player Olympic roster – a chance to impress against the Dutch.

She didn’t disappoint.

Williams completely vindicated her manager in a first-half salvo that saw her grab a goal and an assist to give the USWNT a 2-1 lead, after Vivianne Miedema had opened the scoring for Netherlands.

Miedema would score again in the second half but Alyssa Naeher’s penalty heroics would see the USWNT advance to the semi-finals with a shootout victory.

The U.S. wouldn’t have even reached the shootout were it not for Williams, who has been on the fringe of a regular role with the national team for several years and has had to endure some major setbacks along the way.

Williams was one of the last players cut from the 2019 World Cup squad and could only watch as the U.S. took home the title in France.

She was then named an alternate for the Olympic squad this summer, which at the time meant she was almost certain to not see the field in Japan.

But a late rule change meant alternates would be available for gameday squads, opening the door for Williams to make her Olympic debut off the bench against Australia earlier this week.

Seeing the field at a major tournament felt like a culmination for the attacker, who couldn’t help but think of the disappointments she experienced along the way.

“You think about those things,” she admitted, “2019, [I] was devastated, but obviously I saw that coming as well.

“When I was named an alternate [for the Olympics], obviously [it was] not the position I wanted to be in, but to be one of the 22 people here in Tokyo. I feel so incredibly honored and blessed.”

After the USWNT struggled through a group stage that saw them pick up just four points, Andonovski eyed a change of personnel to offer a different look going forward.

Enter Williams, one of the team’s best pressing forwards and fastest players. 

The North Carolina Courage star has seen her finishing with the national team questioned but after her cross found Sam Mewis for the USWNT’s equalizer, Williams arrowed a pinpoint finish into the bottom corner three minutes later to quickly give the U.S. the lead.

Williams attempted to play down her heroic performance, saying her team's victory was all that mattered.

“It was incredible for me personally, but more than that, I want to win,” she said. 

“If I had [done] that and we would have lost this game, I would have gone home and felt terrible. So, on the personal side, yeah, it's great, but I don't play a personal sport, I play a team sport.”

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Williams has stamped her authority on the Olympics in one eye-opening performance. She may have been shocked to start against the Dutch, but she’s unlikely to have the same reaction if she’s in the lineup again in the semi-final versus Canada.

“I'm just excited for the next game,” she said.

For more on the USWNT's chances at the Olympics and to hear from guests such as Hope Solo, subscribe to  Goal's new podcast, 'All Of Us: The U.S. Women's Soccer Show',  wherever you listen to your podcasts.