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International Royals reflect on bittersweet World Cup experience

SANDY — Though they were good sports about it and answered every question, there's no doubt Katie Bowen, Rachel Corsie and Desiree Scott would have preferred to not participate in Tuesday's post-World Cup press conference hosted by their NWSL club.

The three international soccer players would have much preferred to speak about their experiences whenever their American counterparts return to the Utah Royals FC and celebrate the United States' second-straight championship.

Despite being done earlier than they'd like, Bowen, Corsie and Scott left the World Cup with fond memories — and hope for a brighter future and deeper runs.

"I think playing in a World Cup is special whether it’s your first or your third, just an amazing experience," said Scott, whose Canadian team lost 1-0 to Sweden in the knockout round of 16. "I’m frustrated obviously to be back so soon, but happy to be back with the Royals."

Though they both cherished the World Cup experience in France, neither of the other two Royals players' teams won a match. Corise's Scottish team went 0-1-2 and Bowen's New Zealand squad was 0-3-0 in pool play.

Scotland had one of the toughest and most controversial exits, getting eliminated after officials allowed Argentina to retake a penalty shot in stoppage time that ended up resulting in a 3-3 tie. The Scots led 3-0 in the second half to add to the heartbreak.

"In the actual moment it was a little bit surreal," said Corsie, who helped her teammates regroup after the gut-wrenching result. "A few of us knew we had to stay strong for the group. The one thing you have in that time is each other."

To Corsie's delight, their team had more support from fellow Scots as well. She said 10,000 fans from her native land attended their the first game in Nice, which was more than double the previous high of 4,500 attending fans. For her, this World Cup was a testament to the increase of support for women's soccer at home and abroad.

"We were so encouraged by that," she said.

Not advancing still stings, but Corsie is optimistic her country's soccer program will grow from this bittersweet moment.

"I think in time we’ll use that experience as a group to know what it will take when we’re back on that stage to be able to perform to the best we can and next time hopefully get the result we know we’re certainly capable of," she said. "It was a difficult few weeks that followed. I’ve been back in town for a week now. It’s just really great to be back with the team (URFC)."

Bowen admitted the experience was disappointing but fun for her as well.

"Playing in the World Cup is always going to be a privilege," she said. "A lot of people would kill to be there, so I don’t take that lightly. Unfortunately, we didn't get the results we wanted, but I’m happy to get back with Utah and am ready to get the season back on track."

New Zealand also had a heartbreaking result, falling 1-0 in pool play to the eventual runner-up team from the Netherlands after giving up a goal in the 92nd minute. But that was just one of the many examples of what she described as "a very competitive tournament."

"Unfortunately, we didn’t get to that next round," she said. "But I’m confident that we'll keep building over the years and we’ll get there next time."

Bowen's team fell to Scott's Canadians, 2-0, in the early part of the tournament. The two club teammates exchanged jerseys after the final whistle.

"We were wishing each other good luck before the group matches, good luck even before our game," Bowen recalled. "She said I want YOU to do well, not the team. … There’s no bitterness toward each other. I wanted to see them get through. I thought Desiree had a fantastic tournament."

Bowen smiled and said she was jealous of her family, which took the opportunity to tour France on their visit from New Zealand. She got to explore a town near Le Havre for one day, but spent most of her World Cup in meetings, training, playing and resting her body.

"I didn't get to see a lot," she said. "So I'll be going back to France soon."

The Canadians' tournament performance was also somewhat of a letdown.

"We had high expectations going in. Obviously everyone wants to go and win a World Cup, but I think we definitely felt we could get out of our group and make the semifinals," Scott said. "This is the most confident Canada has been in a long time. So we’re definitely disappointed with not making it further, but credit to Sweden."

Scott will relish some of the goal celebrations, including fun tributes to the Toronto Raptors and the country's first NBA championship.

She doesn't think there will be much if any friendly trash-talking when the three Americans — Becky Sauerbrunn, Christen Press and Kelley O’Hara — come back to the Royals with their gold World Cup hardware. The Royals plan on honoring them when they return.

"I might not talk to them at all," Scott joked. "It’s a big rivalry (Canada vs. USA). You don’t get four stars on your jersey if you’re not a solid team, so credit to them. They had an incredible tournament. They’re our rivals so I’m not super happy that they won, but I’m happy for the teammates from the Royals."