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It’s Melchie Dumornay’s World Cup, And We’re Just Watching It

Lucy Bronze of England battles for possession with Melchie Dumornay of Haiti during the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group D match between England and Haiti at Brisbane Stadium on July 22, 2023 in Brisbane / Meaanjin, Australia.
Photo by Chris Hyde - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

A big part of what makes a tournament like the World Cup so amazing is the way every stage has its own appeal. It's true that the quality of play and the stakes of the matches don't really ramp up until you get deeper into the event, when it becomes clear who actually can win the trophy and what it'll take to do so, but that doesn't mean what comes last in necessarily best. In fact, the group stage is probably the most fun part of the entire competition. The matches come in a dizzying flurry, thrown gauntlets fly this way and that as the title contenders seek to validate their status by crushing their inferiors, underdogs go hunting for upsets that could change their futures, and certain players—often young, often from less-visible countries—enchant the world with star-making performances. That last facet is maybe my very favorite part of a World Cup, and it's why Melchie Dumornay has been to me the coolest thing so far this tournament.

It's not often when you can claim that the standout player on a pitch was wearing the jersey of the team that handily lost. (Though when you can say that, you're often talking about the losing goalkeeper—which actually could apply to the game at hand as well.) But that was the case in Haiti's 1-0 loss to England on Saturday, when anyone watching could've told you that Melchie Dumornay was the match's special one.

What's immediately obvious about Dumornay when watching her is her unbelievable skill. There's good technique, which is the ability to consistently get the ball to do what you want it to in various situations, and then there is technical genius. The former is a matter of knowledge, the latter of invention. The technically good know how to respond to the problems they usually confront, and can choose from a discrete number of tools the one the moment calls for, like an expert mechanic fixing a car engine. The technically ingenious create on the fly new solutions as problems arise, armed with a single tool that nevertheless can do everything, like an artist with a pencil that can draw an engine and then put it in a rocket ship and send it flying to a new galaxy.

Dumornay has that artistic touch. Every kick of the ball is firm, confident, declarative, and precisely measured, giving the impression of a sketch artist's darting pencil, each flick contributing to the creation of something beautiful. As almost the sole object of the English defense's attentions, Dumornay nevertheless found the game and dominated it when the ball came to her feet. It's remarkable how, with everyone in the stadium knowing that she was the one Haitian England needed to keep away from the ball, she managed a team-leading 58 touches, such was her untrackable movements into space and her elusiveness once she received a pass. She created three of Haiti's seven chances on goal, succeeded with five of her seven dribble attempts (the highest figure in the match), completed four of five long passes, and, most importantly, was the overpowering force that made it so it never felt like the World Cup debutants from little ol' Haiti were outmatched against the title favorites and reigning queens of Europe.

But what struck me about Dumornay's performance almost as much as her sheer talent itself was the maturity of her game. Sometimes mega-gifted young players can sort of forget that the goal of the game is found, you know, in the goal, and so they can become so enamored with showing what they can do that they don't always focus on what would be the smartest thing. This is how you get tricky dribblers who have so much fun beating defender after defender that they ignore a clear pass that would set up a teammate for a tap-in. But Dumornay isn't like that at all. Every choice she makes with the ball is aimed directly at causing the maximum amount of damage. When you think she might try to take on several defenders, she'll instead play a long switch to an open teammate down the opposite flank. When you think she might try to pop in a speculative long-range shot, she'll instead lay the ball off for a teammate to try to find someone in better position. She has the intelligence to see and choose the best option, and the genius to invent the most brilliant and effective solutions when the moment strikes. And she's still only 19 years old!

So yes, England might've had 75 percent of the possession, took three times as many shots as Haiti, forced 10 saves out of goalkeeper Kerly Théus (who, to follow up on an earlier aside, had herself an impressive match in keeping the scoreline so close), but Dumornay outshined the English with her thoughts, movements, and actions. We might only get two more matches from Dumornay this tournament, but it'll take something spectacular for anyone to top the mark she's already started to leave on this World Cup.

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