Mallory Pugh’s goal was canceled out by Eugénie Le Sommer as the United States Women’s National Team was held to a 1-1 draw in Round 2 of the SheBelieves Cup at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. The two teams had spells of excellence and complete ineptitude with the defending tournament champions from France looking like the better side at the end of both halves in front of an announced crowd of 25,706.
The United States looked every bit the team that had played three days earlier in heavy weather in Columbus, OH, as the team lacked quality service, couldn’t seem to win any races to loose balls, and made a mess of the few chances they did generate. Heavy legs or not, the U.S. must play better in the tournament finale Wednesday against England to have a shot at winning the 2018 SheBelieves Cup.
Jill Ellis trotted out almost the same 4-3-3 lineup that started on Thursday against Germany in Columbus. The only changes were Morgan Brian and Andi Sullivan for Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz — the latter nursing a bit of a knee issue. Orlando Pride star Alex Morgan served as captain with Lloyd on the bench.
The game was a sloppy affair both ways for the first 15 minutes before the U.S. nearly broke through. Morgan got in behind the defense on a perfect pass from Megan Rapinoe. The flag went up and the whistle blew as Morgan put it in the net but it was waived off. It was a close play and if Morgan was off it was by the smallest of margins. The TV angle makes it difficult to be sure if it was off.
The U.S. started to get into good spots about 20 minutes in but failed to do anything with the ball, with Pugh misplaying a nice ball in for her one minute, and Lindsey Horan missing a curling attempt so badly that it went out for a France throw-in. Morgan set up Pugh with a slick pass in the box in the 31st minute but she rushed her shot and missed the net badly from a good spot.
Two minutes later, Kelley O’Hara got up the right channel and earned a foul and a yellow card on defender Marion Torrent, creating a set piece. The service ping-ponged around the area, off the frame, a point-blank shot by Andi Sullivan and the goalkeeper, before falling for Pugh who swatted it back on goal. French goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi dove to get a hand on it but couldn’t keep it from just crossing the line inside the post, giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute.
The lead didn’t last long. Three minutes after the U.S. goal, Valérie Gauvin tried to chip Alyssa Naeher from close range and got just a smidge too much of the ball, hitting it off the top of the crossbar. The U.S. ignored that warning sign and conceded a minute later.
Defender Griedge MBock played a perfect long ball for Le Sommer down the middle. Le Sommer got to it just ahead of Abby Dahlkemper, easily shed the U.S. defender, rounded Naeher and tucked it just inside the back post to make it 1-1 in the 39th minute.
Le Sommer equalizes. Game on. 1-1. pic.twitter.com/s2v8MKzUt3— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) March 4, 2018
France owned the rest of the half but couldn’t find a second goal. The dominance down the French left side prompted Ellis to take out fullback Taylor Smith, moving O’Hara to the right and inserting Casey Short at left back.
The half ended just after Pugh won a free kick. Rapinoe served in a ball that O’Hara headed wide on the last half-chance of the opening 45 minutes and the teams went to their dressing rooms deadlocked at 1-1.
Ellis withdrew Rapinoe and Horan at the break and replaced them with Savannah McCaskill and Lynn Williams. Williams spent much of the second half getting down the right channel but then being unable to beat her defender or create anything other than a few corner kicks. The first of those came at the 50-minute mark, when Morgan sent Williams streaking down the right channel. As she neared the end line, all Williams could do was smash the ball off the defender for a corner.
The French nearly had a replay of the ball that led to their first goal in the 54th minute, but Tierna Davidson — perhaps the best U.S. player on the day — made a great play to prevent a point-blank shot.
Pugh turned down an open shot from the top of the box in the 61st minute, opting to try to play Morgan in, but the pass was behind Alex and the chance evaporated. Two minutes later, the French back line gifted a turnover to Morgan who tried to fire it on goal first-time but it was blocked out to Short, who blasted one into outer space.
The game got a bit chippy after that. Morgan was bundled over on a corner kick that she got a head to but without much power. She took a shot to the face and remained down, but France played on and countered, which O’Hara broke up with a slide tackle foul at the other end. O’Hara looked like she wanted to murder someone at that point. France worked a tricky set piece that gave Le Sommer an open look in the 69th minute, but her shot went straight to Naeher, who didn’t seem to see it until it was almost on top of her.
From that point on, the U.S. seemed unable to do more than cross the ball into the French defenders or win corner kicks on which the service was badly lacking.
Short was stretchered off with an apparent ankle injury after landing on Gauvin’s foot on a 50/50 aerial ball. Second-half sub Crystal Dunn slid back to left back.
France nearly found a late winner on a couple of opportunities. After pulling the defense out of shape, Naeher was forced to make an outstanding point-blank save on a shot by Gauvin. The U.S. failed to deal well with the resulting corner, which ended up falling for Amandine Henry at the back post, forcing another big save from Naeher at the post to keep the game level.
The last half-chance for the U.S. came in the 89th minute when Christen Press made a sweet move to get into the box but the final cross was deflected by a defender and went agonizingly over Morgan’s head at the wide-open back post. France answered that with a chance in the 94th minute, when a cross for Le Sommer found the target and she volleyed it toward the net but it was off frame.
The final whistle blew and the Yanks were left on four points after two matches, with a chance to win the tournament with a win over England on Wednesday, regardless of what happens in today’s late game between the Lionesses and Germany.
The tournament concludes on Wednesday at Orlando City Stadium. Germany will take on France at 4 p.m. and the U.S. will face England at 7 p.m.