A disappointing crowd of just 12,351 filed in to watch the United States win 1-0 in the final match of the 2018 SheBelieves Cup at Orlando City Stadium. They didn’t get to celebrate much, as the game — and tournament — was decided by an own-goal by England, although the result was deserved with the Yanks fashioning by far the most dangerous attacking play.
The USWNT improved to 10-4-1 in the all-time series vs. the English and won its second tournament title in the event’s three years. England finished second, courtesy of a better goal difference than France.
“They gave us a great battle tonight,” USWNT Head Coach Jill Ellis said of England after the match. “I thought we had most of the game in terms of control but there just such a dangerous team. They put a lot of numbers on our line and tried to get in behind there. It was what I expected in terms of a really intense game.”
“I think it’s really important to come away with this win and come away with the SheBelieves Cup title because they are three fantastic teams,” striker Alex Morgan said. “I think it showed really good character from us that even when we might not be playing our absolute best soccer, we’re still sticking to the principles of this team, we’re still grinding out those wins, and that’s an important thing for us — that we see progress.”
Ellis brought out a mostly similar lineup to the previous two matches, with seven players getting their third start in the tournament — goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, central defenders Abby Dahlkemper and Tierna Davidson, midfielder Lindsey Horan, and forwards Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Mallory Pugh. Rounding out the back line were Emily Sonnett and Crystal Dunn at right and left back, respectively, and completing the midfield were Allie Long and captain Carli Lloyd (earning her 250th career cap) in Ellis’ 4-3-3.
England countered with this lineup:
The two sides got off to a cagey start with no real chances either way and a lot of passing around the back, looking for ways to probe forward. England did well to stay organized at the back and cut out a few early crosses from Rapinoe. Morgan finally took a pass and nearly got in behind the defense in the 11th minute, but her first touch let her down and England’s defense was well positioned to keep the Orlando Pride striker at a difficult angle even if she hadn’t lost the ball.
About 20 minutes into the game, the two sides exchanged badly executed short corners, as they went back and forth, looking for a way to break through. The first decent chance came at the 25-minute mark, when Rapinoe took a pass at the top of the box from Long, turned, and drilled a shot with pace just wide of goal.
England’s first good chance came on a cross into the area with Ellen White streaking toward goal. Sonnett and White bumped and the ball hit White’s outstretched arm, which wasn’t called, but England’s shouts for a penalty on Sonnett went unheeded too.
Horan then got onto a couple of long balls from the right, heading the first wide, then getting in behind on a gorgeous ball from Sonnett only to see her shot blocked at the last second by England’s Lucy Bronze. Seconds later the ball fell to Rapinoe who crossed in and goalkeeper Karen Bardsley got a touch on it, pushing it just a foot past an onrushing Pugh. The ball was also harmlessly behind Morgan at the back post on a tantalizingly close opportunity.
In the 44th minute, it was the USWNT’s turn to shout for a penalty after a collision in the box took Morgan down. A minute later, Pugh weaved through the England defense, leaving three defenders in her wake and unleashed a left-footed shot from the top of the box that brushed the outside of the left post.
That was the last good opportunity of the half. The U.S. took a 3-0 edge in shots to the break (0-0 on goal), and the most the Lionesses could muster were some dangerous balls in behind that forced Naeher off her line to deal with.
The U.S. kept the pressure on at the start of the second period, getting a golden opportunity of an early corner. Rapinoe’s cross found an onrushing Lloyd for a free header but the captain missed wide of goal. A minute later, Dahlkemper sent a perfect ball over the top for Pugh who took a touch and then fired, only to see a diving Bardsley get an outstretched hand on it to keep the game scoreless.
In the 56th minute it was Bardsley again saving the day. Rapinoe got down the left side of the box and fired and Bardsley made a great reaction save to keep the score level.
England finally got its first shot of the game in the 57th when substitute Toni Duggan founder herself with the ball off a Dunn turnover but she fired wide of Naeher’s back post. England paid for that miss a minute later.
Rapinoe fizzed yet another cross into the area but the ball deflected off McManus and fell in front of goal where Millie Bright knocked it off Bardsley for an own-goal. The U.S. led 1-0 in the 58th minute.
Officially (and harshly) the own-goal was given to Bardsley.
“I did feel like [a goal] was eventually going to come,” Ellis said.
England got more dangerous after the goal, applying more and more pressure to the U.S. defense, and forcing turnovers and near-turnovers. That pressure sometimes left gaps in the back and the U.S. nearly exploited that in the 67th minute when Morgan and Rapinoe had essentially a two-on-one break. But Morgan’s pass was too heavy and the chance went away.
The game more or less stayed on a knife edge for about 15 minutes or so, with Lloyd coming inches from doubling the lead on a header just over the bar in the 83rd minute. But Lloyd then came in and gave England a chance to equalize in the 87th with a silly and reckless challenge on Izzy Christiansen just outside the box. England’s set piece found the head of White who headed off the left post. The ball fell right in front of Naeher’s goal line by Davidson swept it away to clear the danger.
“It was a little bit of a scramble,” Davidson said of the play. “Everybody was calling it was offside, but the ref wasn’t blowing her whistle. So I thought I’d better clear this just in case. I felt like I had the entire England team around me. It was just a sea of white jerseys. I cleared it out for a corner — I’ll take that over a goal any day. But it was a hectic couple seconds.”
That was the final clear-cut chance for either team and moments later the final whistle blew on a 1-0 U.S. victory. The U.S. ended up with a slight edge in shots, 8-6 (2-0 on goal) on a night when both sides had trouble breaking the other down.
“I felt like there was highs and lows,” Morgan said. “I felt like there were times when we were playing well and times when England was playing well. They had the pressure on us the latter part of the game. That was just taking some heat and just finishing off 1-0, wasting time in the game, and all of that. But I feel like it was a pretty even match.”
Ellis said she didn’t make many adjustments at the half.
“I think we played well in the first half so honestly it was kind of committing to what we’d gotten the game plan to be,” Ellis said. “I watched their games and I think they’ve got some fantastic players and I’d like to obviously congratulate them on a tremendous tournament. But we knew they were going to be incredibly hard-working and hard to break down. So we kind of made some adjustments to get at their shape a little bit.”
France 3, Germany 0
The French may have stumbled out of the gate in the opening game of the 2018 SheBelieves Cup, but by the final match day, they had their game legs firmly beneath them. The 6,525 fans in the stadium for the early game saw France dominate the Germans all match long, barely giving up any scoring chances and getting goals from Amandine Henry, Eugénie Le Sommer, and Valérie Gauvin.
Henry’s screamer opened the scoring in the first half and Germany nearly equalized when Dzsenifer Marozsan tried to chip goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi from midfield. The French goalkeeper scurried back and spilled the shot while falling but it bounced harmlessly into her arms, sparing her the most embarrassing moment of the tournament. Le Sommer scored early in the second half and then set up a sitter for Gauvin to cap the scoring.
The match had a scary moment as well, as defender Aissatou Tounkara was stretchered off with a scary-looking lower leg injury late in the first half. The Germans finished fourth in the tournament, while the defending champions ended up third.