TAMPA, FL — In the final match of the 2019 SheBelieves Cup, Tobin Heath scored the only goal to lead the United States Women’s National team to a 1-0 win over Brazil in front of 14,009 fans in Raymond James Stadium. That is a record crowd in Tampa for the USWNT. After England’s 3-0 demolition against Japan, the tournament was already wrapped up. However, the win for the U.S. ensured a second-place finish for the Yanks.
“The fans are always great here,” said Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. “I always hear them. I hear them cheering my name behind me and it feels so good because I work my ass off everyday to have moments like these. To know I have the city, the state, this country behind me, it means a lot.”
The Orlando Pride’s Alex Morgan got the customary start up top and captain’s armband, while Harris got her first start of 2019 and 20th international cap. With 99 international goals to her name, Morgan was hoping to reach the century mark just a short drive away from Orlando, with many Pride fans in attendance. Morgan did not have many chances in front of goal though and will have to wait for that landmark achievement.
“I think we were better defensively then we had been,” Harris said. “I think we made it really difficult for them and I was really proud of the squad. We gave up quite a few goals this tournament and to have a clean sheet is, collectively, something to be proud of.”
The U.S. came out fast and had two golden opportunities in the first minute. A Brazil turnover led to Tobin Heath dribbling down the right-hand side of the field. She cut the ball back and passed to Mallory Pugh. The 20-year-old looked to be taken down from behind, but referee Carol Chenard waved it off.
Seconds later, the Yanks were back on the attack. The ball fell to Julie Ertz at the top of the box, but her shot went wide of the post.
The Americans looked to have taken the lead in the 13th minute. Morgan drew two defenders, which led to Heath wide open over the top. Brazil reacted too late, and all the defenders closed in on Heath. This left Megan Rapinoe open on the back post, and she booted the ball past Brazilian goalkeeper Aline. Rapinoe wheeled away in celebration but was correctly called offside.
The Americans kept up the pressure and Brazil rarely threatened. The U.S. was obviously trying to play balls out wide and catch the Seleção with numbers down in the back. After a few failed attempts, the Yanks finally found the breakthrough in the 20th minute.
Morgan had the ball at the top of the box, and it looked certain that she was going to earn her 100th goal. However, Aline rushed out and smothered Morgan’s shot. The ball fell right to Heath’s feet, though, and she buried it into the top corner.
In the 34th minute, Pugh cut in and put a great ball into the box for Kelley O’Hara. The defender’s diving header went right at Aline. The U.S. stayed in control, though, and Pugh had a chance to double the lead, but her shot went sailing over the bar.
Immediately following Pugh’s miss, Brazil had an excellent opportunity. Beatriz dribbled in on the left side of the box. The forward used nifty footwork to get by O’Hara and into the box. She couldn’t keep her footing though, and the chance ended.
In the 40th minute, it was Sam Mewis’ turn to have a look at goal. Once again it was Pugh who put a terrific ball into the area. Mewis just had to redirect the ball, but her header went wide, and the score remained 1-0.
The U.S. dominated the first half. Harris was forced to make just one save, and Marta was kept quiet. On the defensive end, the Yanks kept things very compact and shifted well as a unit. When they won the ball back, the Americans immediately looked to the right wing. Pugh and Heath continuously got the ball out wide, and the only thing that was missing was the final shot.
“I’ll see Marta tomorrow,” said Harris. “This one is going to sting for her, I’m sure, for awhile because she’s a competitor. But I’m very proud of the shutout and I’m proud of the performance.”
Both teams made one change to start the second half. Debinha was replaced by Geyse for Brazil, and Jill Ellis replaced Pugh with Christen Press. The U.S. started the second half similarly to the first. The Yanks high pressed Brazil and attempted to win the ball back close to the Seleção’s goal.
The first real chance of the second half came in the 56th minute. The U.S. won the ball back in its own half. Press played a cross-field ball to Heath, who broke free of everyone. Brazil’s Andressa recovered nicely but then impeded Heath’s progress, earning a yellow. Rapinoe took the free kick from 20 yards out and hit the wall.
Much of the second half was played in the middle third of the field, and neither team had many good looks on goal. Marta was isolated with Crystal Dunn often, but when the Brazilian got the ball, she could not find a teammate in the box. Press had a handful of takeaways in the middle of the field, but then the U.S. struggle to keep possession afterward.
“The second half we kinda shifted a little bit,” said Morgan. “Press came in at the 10, and we had two sixes. So it was a little bit of a formation switch, but I think that Brazil wanted to keep it compact and maybe assume that the game was going to stretch out. I think we just had less chances in the second half.”
The main difference between the first and second half was decision making. The U.S. held onto the ball for too long and was sloppy in possession. Instead of finding players out wide and quickly getting down the field, the Americans spent more time building up play. This nearly worked a few times, but there was little space in the box as Brazil had six players inside the 18 defending.
Brazil should have leveled things in the 74th minute. Marta put a perfect cross into the box. Ludmila flicked it on, but Harris came to the rescue with a diving, one-handed save. The crowd reacted by chanting Harris’ name.
Six minutes later, Harris was needed again. Dunn fouled Marta about 25 yards from goal. Marta took the free kick aiming for the near post. Harris had it covered all the way though, and the Yanks kept the 1-0 lead.
The Americans were able to hold off Brazil’s late push and earn their first shutout of the SheBelieves Cup. The Yanks held 49% possession, but dominated Brazil in most other stats. The Yanks out-shot Brazil, 18-11 (6-3 on target) and committed 11 fewer fouls. The teams were tied with two corner kicks apiece. With the victory, the U.S. finished in second place and Brazil, which lost all three games, came in last.
“I think that if we would have paid attention to the details a little more in the Japan game or the England game, I think that we would have been on the podium,” said Morgan. “We had Japan and England on their heels in the last 10 minutes of the games, pushing for a goal, and just didn’t get it. Now we need to just watch England hoist that trophy and hope that we never have to see that again.”
The USWNT will next play on April 4 at 9 p.m. against Australia in Commerce City, CO.