Esmee Brugts Only Scores Absolute Firecrackers
12:02 PM EDT on August 1, 2023
There is a goal from the Netherlands' men's soccer team that I think about roughly once a month. It happened in the semi-final of the 2010 World Cup, when the Dutch faced Diego Forlán's Uruguay for a spot in the final. With the score tied at 0-0, Netherlands captain, icon, and, most shockingly, left back Giovanni van Bronckhorst ripped a laser beam of a shot from what felt like three miles away, beating Uruguayan goalie Fernando Muslera and giving the Dutch an early lead. The strike itself isn't what brings the goal to mind so often, though; instead, it's Ian Darke's call of the play, so perfect in its simplicity: "It is an ABSOLUTE firecracker!"
I thought about Van Bronckhorst's goal twice in the early hours of Tuesday morning, while staving off the doom and gloom of yet another listless United States performance. While I had the USWNT-Portugal game on one screen with sound on, I was also keeping an eye on the Netherlands-Vietnam match on another monitor. After all, while the Dutch were expected to win, their margin of victory would influence whether the U.S. finished first or second in the group (well, it would have, if the Americans had actually won their match against Portugal. Oops.), so I was glancing over every now and then.
Thanks to the Dutch's determination to take that first place spot and, by doing so, to avoid Sweden in the round of 16, every time I looked over, the Oranje seemed to be scoring again. The Dutch put five goals past Vietnam in the first half, which put first place out of the USWNT's reach regardless of what the Americans were likely to do against the Portuguese. The Dutch were ruthless when presented with an over-matched opponent who was also probably a bit checked out: Entering the final match day, Vietnam was the only team in Group E to be definitively eliminated.
Most of the Netherlands' eventual seven (!) goals were demonstrations of what superior talent and focus can do to a scoreline. This result probably does not mean that the Dutch have completely overcome the absence from the tournament of injured star striker Vivianne Miedema, and they will likely have a tougher time scoring in the knockout rounds, as their matches there will probably look more like their 1-0 win against Portugal and 1-1 draw against the U.S. However, two of the Netherlands' goals need no qualifications for their majesty. To quote Darke, they were absolute firecrackers, and they both came from the right foot of Esmee Brugts.
Brugts is a 20-year-old winger who plays at club level for PSV, one of the titans of Dutch soccer. Entering the tournament, she was slotted in for the left wing spot, but wasn't expected to play a starring role, so much so that I picked a goalkeeper for the "cool youngster" section of my Netherlands preview. A goalkeeper. (In my defense, Daphne van Domselaar has been fantastic.) Brugts really announced herself as a presence during the draw against the USWNT. She repeatedly pushed Emily Fox back down the Dutch left side, and pressed her without the ball, making Fox's day a nightmare.
If that was her first foray into the international spotlight, though, she proved her ability to steal scenes in the 18th minute of the match against Vietnam. By that point, the rout was already well underway, as the Dutch had scored two goals in the first 11 minutes, but Brugts turned it into a spectacle of destruction. Receiving the ball about 30 yards from goal on the left side of the field, Brugts took one touch to collect the ball, another to set up the shot, and then smoked an immaculate curler that no goalie in the world could stop:
To answer Telemundo's question above, that Brugts rocket probably is "el mejor gol" of this tournament, but if it is not, it's because she arguably one-upped herself a little while later. In the 57th minute, with the score at 5-0 and first place in the group mostly locked up, Brugts jumped a pass from Vietnam and hit a one-touch screamer:
Picking between these two goals is like picking your favorite fraternal twin. They're both similar, but with just enough differences that you can safely side with one or the other. (For my money, the second is a bit better, as Brugts had less space and generated more power on it, but it's close.) What is not up for debate, however, is how dangerous the Netherlands looked any time Brugts picked up the ball. Despite her youth and relative lack of international experience—16 caps, and now six goals—she's shown against the USWNT that she can be a fulcrum on offense, and then she showed against Vietnam that she can score from pretty much anywhere.
Brugts alone isn't the reason the Dutch won the group, but she does look to have become a key part of a team looking to capture the trophy that eluded them four years ago. At worst, there could be a few more firecrackers blasting off from her right foot in the near future, and that's worth the price of admission right there.