USWNT coach: Proud of players for even being on field vs. England after 'extremely difficult week'

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LONDON -- United States women's national coach Vlatko Andonovski said he was proud of his players for "even being on the field" after they lost 2-1 to England at Wembley Stadium on Friday, just days after the release of a report detailing systemic abuse in women's soccer in the U.S.

The independent investigative report from Sally Yates released on Monday, detailed systemic abuse within the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) and that league officials and governing body U.S. Soccer failed to adequately protect players.

Given that buildup, Andonovski was full of praise for the mentality of his roster.

"Obviously, it's been an extremely difficult week for everybody and I'm proud of the players for even being on the field and playing the game," he said. "It wasn't easy.

"For some of them who were in the environment to see and experience everything they went through, I applaud their bravery and I applaud their fearless mentality and relentlessness. Once again, they showed that nothing can stop them playing the game that they love. I'm very proud of them and hoping we never have to go through that again."

The U.S. was beaten by first-half goals from England's Lauren Hemp and Georgia Stanway in front of a sellout crowd of almost 77,000 at Wembley. Sophia Smith scored for the U.S., which was also controversially denied a second goal when the video assistant referee ruled there had been an offside in the buildup.

But the game was about far more than the events on the field.

Players from England and the USWNT came together before kickoff to unveil a banner showing their support for victims of sexual abuse.

The players held a banner saying "Protect The Players" in the center circle, while Wembley's arch above the stadium was lit teal for 15 minutes before kickoff. Both teams also wore teal armbands in a show of solidarity.

"It was a special moment when the players got together and had the banner in front of them," Andonovski added.

"It gave me goose bumps to see the support from the fans that applauded the moment. It was a statement that we have to stop sexual violence and once again the players did an incredible job in using this game and event as a platform to fight against it."

Added England manager Sarina Wiegman: "It was very important. We all wanted to play our part in being supportive. It's very horrible that these situations occur. For the victims it was horrible, and now they have to re-live it again. It should stop.

"Now people are speaking up and it's very strong, and we need to make sure it's going to change and it doesn't happen anymore.

"We celebrated lots of things today but when this happens, you can't just let it go. The time is now, we use this momentum to spread the word that it's unacceptable and horrible what is happening."

USWNT veteran Megan Rapinoe spoke on the eve of the match and said she was "emotionally exhausted" after processing the report and called for accountability for those the report found were complicit in covering up the abuse.

Rapinoe said the report was "devastating in every single way" but praised the USWNT team for "how we were able to take that on and continue to do our job" ahead of Friday's match.