In its first friendly since qualifying for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup last month, the United States Women’s National Team traveled to Lisbon to take on Portugal, where it won 1-0 for its 500th win of all time and 17th win this year. The play was a bit sloppy as a whole, but ultimately the U.S. did what it needed to do in a historic match as Jessica McDonald’s first international goal was the difference.
With Tobin Heath and Christen Press both unavailable, Head Coach Jill Ellis leaned on a lineup a bit different to what was used in the Concacaf Women’s Championship with Orlando Pride forward Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Julie Ertz not making the starting lineup. In goal, Ellis continued to roll with Alyssa Naeher as Ashlyn Harris still waits in the wings on the bench.
It was a slow start for both teams as Portugal didn’t see much possession and the U.S. struggled to find the final ball for the earlier parts of the match. The U.S. instead relied on its set pieces to put the pressure on.
A Megan Rapinoe free kick in the 10th minute would’ve likely resulted in an early goal had an open Lindsey Horan not whiffed on the volley. Portuguese goalkeeper Patricia Morais needed a diving save to see another Rapinoe cross out of play after a corner not much later.
Disaster nearly struck for the U.S. in the 13th minute when Naeher was unable to fully wrap up on a ball after running far off her line. A panicked clearance by the goalkeeper gave the ball away with her out of her goal, but the long range shot was thwarted by a sliding tackle and Naeher was able to hurry back to goal before Portugal could get another look at the empty net.
The U.S. nearly scored in the 33rd minute after a good run by Rapinoe resulted in a pass to McDonald, who had a clear look at goal. But the North Carolina Courage striker couldn’t quite time her shot and find her footing and her shot went wide of the net.
Abby Dahlkemper kept out Portugal’s best chance of the half after a failed U.S. clearance left a bouncing ball in front of goal. Portuguese forward Jessica Silva got on the end of it but Dahlkemper was able to stick a leg out in the nick of time to deflect it out of play. Two ensuing corners ended with a strong header by Tatiana Pinto that went just wide of goal and Portugal looked much more comfortable and dangerous from that point on.
However, the U.S. was able to get the first (and only) goal of the game with McDonald making up for the missed shot earlier in the match. The play started with an excellent ball from Mallory Pugh that found Crystal Dunn in open space down the right wing with McDonald making her run toward goal. Dunn’s cross in was superb, with just enough on it to get past the defending Portuguese player and find McDonald. It looked to be another missed opportunity when Morais made a huge save but Mcdonald was there to clean it up with a second effort to score her first international goal and give the U.S. its only goal right before the half.
Although the first half ended with the U.S. holding 61% of the possession, Portugal actually out-shot the U.S. five to four after the European team’s surge late in the half. With six subs allowed in the friendly match, Ellis used two at the start of the second half to bring on Daniella Colaprico and Alex Morgan, with 20-year-old Andi Sullivan and the goal scorer McDonald coming off.
Morgan was able to make her presence known early in the half with a shot in the 50th minute after she found a tight window to fire at goal. Although it had a fair bit of power behind it, Morais had no trouble getting her body behind it to deny Morgan.
The U.S. attack continued minutes later with Dunn continuing to do well in the final third. The Washington Spirit star gave a swerving cross that Morais could only swat away. Horan was unable to get on top of the deflection and her shot on the volley sailed high.
Lloyd came on in the 63rd minute and the U.S. formation shifted to accommodate the attacking talent, with the defense going to just three in the back as the U.S. continued to pressure Portugal.
But the Portuguese were far from fangless with just one goal separating the two teams. Silva was able to lead the team’s attack for the most part and stretched the U.S. defense and tested Naeher.
Notably vocal on set pieces as she arranged her defense, Naeher still showed a fair bit of hesitation when called on to make a quick decisions and that showed in the 67th minute as the ball dangerously bounced in front of goal after confusion between the goalkeeper and her back line. There was no Portugal player to take advantage, but it was one of those little things that Ellis is surely keeping an eye on before next summer.
On the offensive end, Morgan’s second opportunity came in the 73rd minute but Morais, who had an incredible game for the most part, came up with a big save to meet her. As with most of the attack during the second half, the U.S. was able to exploit space on the left side and Morgan fought off a defender before bringing the ball down and firing the shot.
The U.S. was able to hold on but at the same time was unable to add to the lead despite many opportunities throughout the game as the team remained undefeated in 2018 (17-0-2).
It was far from pretty, with the U.S.’s only goal coming from a put-back effort by 30-year-old McDonald. There were a lot of shots that I’m sure the U.S. would want back and Ellis will have to determine if it was simply some international friendly rust or if this team has some deeper issues with scoring goals against teams different from those in Concacaf. She will get her second chance this month to assess the team on Nov. 13 when the U.S. travels to take on Scotland, which qualified for the World Cup in France next summer.