AUCKLAND, New Zealand — England midfielder Keira Walsh left Friday’s Women’s World Cup match against Denmark on a stretcher, and in distress, after suffering an apparent non-contact knee injury.
Walsh, a FIFA Player of the Year nominee and Champions League winner, slid to cut out a pass in the 35th minute, and stayed down after her foot caught in the grass and her right knee bended awkwardly underneath her.
Teammates came to comfort her, and perhaps to help her to her feet, but she pushed them away, and appeared to say: “Get off, get off, get off.” She then looked toward the bench, and gesticulated to convey bad news, and shook her head.
When the team’s medical staff arrived, she appeared to tell them: “I’ve done my knee.”
As the medical staff tended to her, pain and heartbreak seemed to set in, and doom spread throughout a once-expectant fan base. Walsh had been the defensive midfield conductor for the European champions, and perhaps their most important player. Suddenly, on Friday, she became the fourth England starter felled by a knee injury ahead of this World Cup.
Watching from home, Beth Mead, one of the other three, tweeted in agony.
Walsh was lifted onto a stretcher. As she was carried toward the sideline, and eventually down the Sydney Football Stadium tunnel, she brought her hands to her head and her jersey over her face. And the women’s soccer world feared for the worst.
There was no immediate diagnosis. But the sport, and England’s Lionesses in particular, have been battling an “epidemic” of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries. Mead, a Ballon d’Or finalist, and England captain Leah Williamson are current members of the ACL Club. Playmaker Fran Kirby is also missing the World Cup due to a knee injury. Six of the world’s top 16 players tore their ACL between June 2022 and April 2023.
The rash of injuries accelerated a wide-ranging search for cures. But it also provoked fear. Walsh was one of the players who openly admitted to it.
“I would be lying if I say it’s not a worry for me every time I go on the pitch that I’m going to get injured next,” Walsh said earlier this month.
Once she departed Friday’s game, England struggled to control it, but held on for a 1-0 win.
Walsh’s status for the remainder of the World Cup is unclear, but obviously in doubt. “It looked serious,” England head coach Sarina Wiegman said postgame. She called it a “horrible moment” for Walsh.
An ACL tear would rule her out for the rest of the tournament; most other ligament tears or sprains would also cost her the rest of the tournament, which concludes on Aug. 20.
Lauren Coombs replaced her on Friday. But no player can replicate her technical and tactical expertise. Speaking on British television, recently-retired striker Ellen White said that throughout England’s triumphant Euro 2022 campaign, the team had no Plan B. “Everything [came] from Keira,” White said. “We appreciated so much that all our play came through her.”