Julie Ertz provided the only goal in a hard-fought battle between the United States Women’s National Team and Spain, scoring late to lift the Yanks to a 1-0 win at a sold out Red Bull Arena. The Spanish had come closest to scoring in the World Cup Round of 16 rematch, sending a header off the post in the first half until Ertz smashed a Christen Press free kick delivery home in the 87th minute for the game-winner.
The USWNT improved to 3-0-0 in the all-time series against Spain but all three matches have been one-goal battles and the U.S. has only one goal in the run of play in the three meetings.
With the win, the U.S. improves to 2-0-0 (six points) in the tournament with wins over England and Spain. Both of those sides sit at 1-1-0 and three points, while Japan is 0-2-0. Because the first tiebreaker in the tournament is goal differential and not head-to-head results, the USWNT must secure a draw or better against Japan on Wednesday to ensure the tournament championship.
Vlatko Andonovski made only a few changes from the team that beat England at Exploria Stadium in Orlando last Thursday. Alyssa Naeher remained in goal, behind a back line of Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, and the Orlando Pride’s Emily Sonnett, who replaced Kelley O’Hara at right back. The midfield three were Sam Mewis, Ertz, and Rose Lavelle. Mewis replaced Lindsey Horan from last game. Up top, Carli Lloyd started again but in between Megan Rapinoe and Lynn Williams instead of Christen Press and Tobin Heath. The Pride’s Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris were on the bench.
Mewis sent Rapinoe in on goal just three minutes in but Sandra Paños came up with a huge point-blank save on the U.S. forward and the Yanks couldn’t pounce on the rebound. Moments later, Lavelle was away on goal but the referee didn’t play advantage for a foul on Lloyd behind the play, and instead it was a free kick from distance. Lloyd nearly got onto Rapinoe’s service but it got knocked out for a corner, which Spain dealt with.
The U.S. wasted a good opportunity in the eighth minute when Lavelle danced through the entire Spanish midfield and sent a gorgeous wide ball to Rapinoe. The cross in for Lloyd, however, was too far in front and too close to Paños.
Spain’s first scoring opportunity came from outside the area in the 15th minute, when Lucia Garcia took a shot but it skipped in easily for Naeher to scoop up.
Rapinoe sent a good cross into the area in the 20th on a corner kick that somehow skipped through the box without anyone touching it and it almost found its way inside the far post.
Both teams nearly scored in the 24th. Jenni Hermoso sent a glancing header shot off the left post at one end and the U.S. went on the break.
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At the other end, Williams crossed in to Lloyd, who chested it down but the touch was too heavy and Paños was able to get there first.
The teams exchanged chances again a few minutes later. A ball over the top found Garcia but she couldn’t hit the volley cleanly in the 31st. A minute later, the U.S. broke out in transition and Rapinoe scorched a shot from the left that Paños fought off and over the bar. Again the corner kick cross skipped dangerously through the box, needing only one touch that never came. Lavelle was the closest at the back post but couldn’t get on it.
The last good chance of the opening half came in the 43rd minute when Rapinoe found Lloyd in the area. She took the shot first time but sent it right at Paños. The Spanish goalkeeper spilled the ball out in front but Mewis had checked her run and Paños was able to regather it.
The teams went into the break deadlocked at 0-0.
The second half opened with a dazzling run from Williams up the right side, but she couldn’t pick out a teammate with her cross in the 47th minute. The USWNT wasted some promising buildups over the next few minutes, including one where Lavelle had every opportunity to blast a shot on her dominant foot, but she instead opted to thread a pass to an offside Lloyd, who was basically watching for the shot at that point. In the 53rd Ertz set up Lavelle at the top of the box but she sizzled her shot over the bar.
Paños made a sensational diving save to deny Mewis in the 60th on a shot from outside the area. The Spanish goalkeeper than punched away the ensuing Ertz shot on the U.S. corner kick.
The United States pressed and started getting more of the ball as the game wore on, but it seemed a breakthrough wouldn’t come unless it came on a set piece, and that’s exactly how it happened. A foul set up a USWNT free kick on the left side and second-half sub Press stepped up to the ball. She delivered a terrific cross that arced over a defender and Ertz hit it squarely with her forehead, smashing it toward goal. Paños made a great reaction to get a hand on it and almost kept it out, but it had too much power and the Yanks had their goal.
From there, the U.S. kept pressuring La Roja and saw out the last couple of minutes — plus three minutes of stoppage time — without allowing a look at goal the rest of the way.
The SheBelieves Cup will conclude Wednesday night in Frisco, TX, as the USWNT closes the tournament against Japan.