Australia got a second-half goal by Tameka Butt and that was enough offense for the Matildas to score their first-ever win against the United States Women’s National Team. The USWNT was toothless in the attack and careless clearing the ball in losing its opening game of the Tournament of Nations in front of 15,748 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
The U.S. is now 25-1-2 against the Aussies, who played well and did just enough to beat an often listless American squad that lacked quality in the final third and missed too many clearance opportunities at the back. The USWNT has struggled against top competition for a while now and this match was no different.
Jill Ellis opted not to start Orlando Pride stars Alex Morgan and Ali Krieger. The lineup consisted of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher; defenders Casey Short, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, and Taylor Smith (her first USWNT cap); midfielders Mallory Pugh, Allie Long, Samantha Mewis, and Megan Rapinoe; with Lindsey Horan and Christen Press up top.
Pride defenders Alanna Kennedy and Steph Catley started for Australia on the back line in front of goalkeeper Lydia Williams. Ellie Carpenter and Elise Kellond-Knight started on the outside of the back line with Catley and Kennedy in the middle. Tameka Butt, Emily van Egmond, and Katrina Gorry started in the midfield, with Caitlin Foord, Lisa De Vanna (formerly of the Pride), and Sam Kerr, up top. Former Pride defender Laura Alleway started the match on the bench.
After a five-minute settling-in period, the USWNT controlled the next dozen or so minutes. Press took a nutmeg pass from Pugh and tried to dish it back at the top of the box but the defense was able to clog up the space. Rapinoe got the first good chance in the 11th minute, taking a pass from Press down the left side of the box, cutting inside Carpenter and drilling a shot that Williams fought off with one hand.
In the 15th minute, Pugh cut from right to left into the middle and tried a shot from the top of the penalty area but it deflected off a defender and went out for a corner without threatening Williams’ goal.
The next 10 minutes saw Australia come into the match. The Matildas fashioned their first opportunity in the 17th minute, with Kerr driving toward the defense before dishing to Butt down the right side. Butt fired a shot but it was off target. Two minutes later, Allie Long sent a poor back pass under pressure toward Naeher that forced the goalkeeper to come quickly off her line to stab it away from Kerr.
After that spell of possession by the Aussies, the game evened out a bit. Rapinoe tried an ambitious volley shot in the 22nd minute but struck her shot well over the bar. Three minutes later, the Seattle Reign star fizzed a wicked cross through the box that Kennedy couldn’t handle and it fell tantalizingly near Horan, who stabbed at it but couldn’t get a clean strike.
Pugh took a scary knock in the 33rd and was down holding her knee. She came off for a few minutes but ultimately was able to continue.
Australia continued to grow in confidence as the first half wore on. Gorry found some space above the box and struck a well-hit shot but it went straight to Naeher. A moment later, the U.S. was saved by the offside flag on a dangerous cross by Kellond-Knight. that found a teammate alone in the box.
The USWNT nearly found a breakthrough in the 41st minute when Horan curled a cross in front of Press. The Chicago Red Stars’ star forward beat Williams to the cross but couldn’t handle the spin on the ball and it squirted away, wrecking a golden chance.
That was about it for the first-half chances. Naeher came off her line to pluck a cross out of the air and Kennedy nearly got onto an Australia corner but there was nothing with any menace and the two sides went to the locker room scoreless.
Both teams came out of the break looking to score the first goal. Rapinoe sizzled a cross into the box in the 47th and Catley muffed the clearance so it went behind for a corner. On the set piece, the ball deflected to Long at the goal line but the offside flag came up.
Gorry got loose in the box in the 49th minute but fired her shot too close to Naeher, who saved comfortably. Then, a minute later, Mewis had a go from the top of the box that trickled inches wide of the far post off a deflection.
Kerr got her head on a Kellond-Knight cross in the 56th minute but couldn’t keep the shot down and it sailed well over the bar.
Ellis sent Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan on to try to get the offense going, but it was Australia that struck just moments later. The U.S. made a mess of a couple of clearing chances and paid for it. The usually reliable Sauerbrunn failed to clear the ball properly and it popped in behind the back line for Butt to run onto and bundle in past Naeher for the opening goal.
The goal woke up the USWNT a bit but the damage had been done. Three minutes after Butt’s goal, Lloyd got onto a ball above the box and smashed it on target but Williams was there to make the save on Carli’s rocket.
In the 78th minute, second-half sub Kelley O’Hara — who replaced Smith — got into the box down the right and opted to cross instead of shoot. Her pass for Rapinoe was on target but the defense arrived at the same time as the ball to smother the danger.
In the 82nd minute, the Aussies won a free kick just outside the U.S. penalty area. Kennedy stepped up to take it and beat the wall but her shot didn’t dip and cleared the bar by a few feet.
Morgan latched onto a long through ball by Rapinoe just seconds later and tried to beat Williams at the near post. She hit her shot with pace but it was just off frame and into the outside netting.
Three minutes later, in the 85th minute, the U.S. should have leveled. O’Hara played a wonderful cross over the defense that fell right onto Crystal Dunn’s chest. She took a touch and tried to beat Williams but didn’t make good contact and the ball went off Williams’ foot and dribbled out for a corner.
Nothing came of the corner kick, which was a problem all night. The Yanks just couldn’t produce anything of quality on set pieces, and over-hit deliveries much of the evening or committed fouls in the area while the ball was still in the air.
Morgan got onto a through ball in the 86th but was off to the side of goal with Williams between her and the net. She tried to slot a pass through the area but it was picked out by the defense. Mewis wasted a free kick in the 89th. Whether it was a shot or a service into the box, I’m not sure but her touch let her down either way and she sent the ball over everyone and well wide of the net.
Rapinoe split four defenders outside the penalty area in the 90th and tried for something special but her strike sailed wide right. That turned out to be the last opportunity for the USWNT, as the Yanks had trouble maintaining possession during the four minutes of injury time.
With the result and the performance, it was all too reminiscent of the SheBelieves Cup in the spring. The United States sits dead last in the Tournament of Nations standings after one round.
The USWNT will face Brazil on Sunday night in San Diego (more on that below).
Brazil 1, Japan 1
Marta and Monica started, with Camila on the bench, in the early Tournament of Nations match between the Brazilians and Japanese. Japan scored on a second-half Yuka Momiki header to take a 1-0 lead. Defenders Tamires and Monica were left to mark three Japan players in the box. That math didn’t work out so good and Momiki was left alone at the back post on the play. The Japanese attacker ran onto a free header on a well-placed cross into the box.
The Orlando Pride’s Camila scored the equalizer in the 87th minute with a bomb that started left and swerved hard to the right, leaving Japanese keeper Ayaka Yamashita with no chance. It was Camila’s first international goal.
The Brazilians take on the USWNT Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be shown live on ESPN2. The Aussies will face Japan in the early game at 5:15 p.m. ET on ESPN3/Watch ESPN.