The United States Women’s National Team scored twice after halftime to open its 2020 SheBelieves Cup run with a 2-0 win over England at Exploria Stadium. A midweek crowd of 16,531 turned up to see the defending World Cup winners in their rematch of their semifinal in France last summer. In addition to the pregame fireworks, those fans were treated to some second-half fireworks by the USWNT as Christen Press and Carli Lloyd each found the net.
“It’s always a battle and a physical battle,” midfielder Lindsey Horan said of playing England. “But they like to play as well and it’s a good challenge for us and I think it’s not really a friendly anymore whenever we play them.”
Despite it being a much more physical battle than your typical friendly — Kelley O’Hara and Lauren Hemp waged an epic battle all night — USWNT Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski downplayed any talk that England vs. the U.S. is developing into a rivalry.
“That’s what makes this group special,” he said. “Every game is important. It’s the mentality that we try to set and that’s what helps us push the boundaries and push the standards and keep evolving and keep getting better.”
It was a full-strength lineup for Andonovski, aside from the absence of Alex Morgan, who is seven months pregnant. Alyssa Naeher started in goal behind a back line of Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, and O’Hara. Horan, Julie Ertz, and Rose Lavelle patrolled the midfield behind the front line of Press, Lloyd, and Tobin Heath.
The teams fought back and forth in the early going without either getting a clean look at goal, although both were able to get some crosses into the area. The first half decent chance of the game came 10 minutes in when Ertz — playing in her 100th USWNT match — headed a corner kick cross on target but right at goalkeeper Carly Telford. A minute later, Ellen White got a head to a Hemp cross, but popped it up and Naeher collected it in the air.
Lavelle missed a good opportunity with a blast from the top of the area in the 14th minute, firing on target but close enough to Telford that she could make a diving save on the shot.
Horan nearly scored in the 23rd minute, getting in behind the defense and firing but Telford made a point-blank save. Horan then tried to gather the loose ball with the keeper out of position, but the whistle blew and I couldn’t tell you why. The assistant referee’s flag wasn’t up but the referee spotted something.
England had a good opportunity in the 26th minute on the corner kick. Georgia Stanway whipped in a wicked cross and Hemp got her head to it but it went just over the bar and landed on the roof of the net. A minute later, England got a gift on an uncharacteristic giveaway by Sauerbrunn but White’s shot was right at Naeher.
The USWNT should have taken the lead in the 32nd minute. Heath slipped a cross into the area to Press for the shot. Press didn’t strike it true enough, however, and it lacked the pace to beat a diving Telford.
In the 39th minute, Heath got into the penalty area, then tried to slip past Alex Greenwood. As she was going by, she went down after contact with Greenwood’s leg on what looked like a penalty. Despite Heath’s demonstrative protestations, there was no penalty given by referee Odette Hamilton.
Jill Scott sent another England shot right at Naeher in the 40th minute on the last chance for either side in the opening half and the teams went to the break scoreless.
Horan got the first chance of the second half. After Lloyd won a corner kick, Heath sent in a cross that Horan got her head to but she couldn’t get on top of it and she sent a laser blast just over the crossbar in the 50th minute.
Three minutes later, the U.S. broke the deadlock. Ertz won the ball back with a midfield tackle and sent it over to Lloyd. The captain coolly turned and made an excellent pass to spring Press into space and the Utah Royals striker sent a beautiful golazo into the far corner where Telford couldn’t reach it.
“It felt like it was the goal was coming,” Andonovski said. “It was coming there, you know with couple opportunities that we created. It kind of lifted up the fans a little bit and got loud in there. It got the got the team going, and when we scored the first one. It seemed like the fans carried us through, so we can get the next one.”
It didn’t take long for the U.S. to double the lead. Horan sent a ball over the top in the 56th minute to a wide-open Lloyd, who picked her spot and fired home to make it 2-0.
“That was a great scoop pass by Lindsey Horan,” Lloyd said. “We’ve actually spent a couple (training) sessions doing that, working on that. So, when you train things, they actually, you know, work out in the game sometimes, so it’s great.”
England nearly snatched that goal right back in the 57th minute but it would have been unjust. The Lionesses got away with a big push in the back at midfield that caused a turnover, igniting the transition. At the other end, Nikita Parris fired from a tight angle, but Naeher was there to smother it.
Both teams started to make substitutions and the game got a little less tidy at both ends. Lloyd had a fantastic opportunity at a second goal in the 72nd minute but fired her blast just over the bar.
Ertz smoked a shot past Telford in the 79th but the flag was rightfully up for her being offside on the pass that sprung her. Two minutes later, second-half sub Bethany England fired just over the bar for the visitors from around the penalty spot.
The U.S. just had to manage the game from there and the Yanks managed to do that. Substitute Sam Mewis nearly made it 3-0 in stoppage time off a cross from O’Hara and moments later the full-time whistle blew to end the proceedings.
The United States led in shots (22-8) and shots on goal (6-3). The USWNT improved to 12-4-2 in the all-time series against England and is now unbeaten in 29 straight.
“I think that (streak) is something about the U.S. that we do, you know, hold the standard for ourselves and we always want to win,” Horan said. “We want to put everything out there for our country and that’s this mentality of this team.”
Spain Tops Japan in SheBelieves Cup Opener
In the early match, Spain opened the tournament with a decisive 3-1 victory over Japan. Lucia Garcia scored a brace and Alexia Putellas also scored for Spain, and Mana Iwabuchi scored a stunner in the loss for Japan.
The USWNT moves on to Round 2 of the SheBelieves Cup at Red Bull Arena on Sunday, where the Yanks will face Spain at 5 p.m.