The United States Women’s National Team continued its lack of sharpness but did enough to dispatch Brazil 2-0 on Match Day 2 of the 2021 SheBelieves Cup at Exploria Stadium. Christen Press and Megan Rapinoe supplied the offense against a Brazilian side that looked dangerous throughout the match. With the win, the Yanks improved to 2-0-0 in the competition, with a +3 goal differential.
The U.S. improved to 6-0-0 at Exploria Stadium, outscoring opponents by a combined 16-0 in those matches. The Yanks also took control of the SheBelieves Cup standings, improving to six points to top the table over Brazil and Canada, on three points each. A draw or better for the USWNT on Tuesday would clinch the tournament title.
“I’m very happy that we’re creating chances and the fact that we’re doing it in a manner that is very creative with some good plays makes me happy and tells me that we’re moving in the right direction,” USWNT Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski said after the match. “Now, the fact that we’re not finishing is not disappointing, but it’s something that we definitely have to address.”
Andonovski rotated his squad for the game against Brazil, but not heavily, changing out only four starters from Thursday’s win over Canada. Alyssa Naeher started in goal behind a back line of Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, and Emily Sonnett — who stepped in for Midge Purce. Rose Lavelle replaced Catarina Macario in the midfield alongside Julie Ertz and Lindsey Horan. Press and Alex Morgan started in place of Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, respectively, with Lynn Williams returning to the right wing.
The U.S. started on the front foot and only a terrific save by Barbara kept Williams from scoring in the second minute. Press drew the defense inside and sent Williams in on the right but the Brazilian keeper was able to get a hand on the blast from the U.S. forward.
Morgan set up a chance for Lavelle in the eighth minute but the midfielder couldn’t get her shot on frame. Two minutes later, Ertz sent a rocket shot over the bar from long range. But the first goal came just seconds later.
Ertz sent a diagonal ball to the left for Horan, who slipped Press into the penalty area. Press cut in left to right and sent a perfect shot past Barbara and inside the back post for her 59th career goal, making it 1-0 in the 11th minute. It was her 59th career goal.
“Lindsey played me a great ball in on a diagonal, so I wasn’t in a crossing situation. I was actually able to cut in, and open up the angle of the goal,” Press said. “And that’s kind of like what I like to do. It’s my signature shot and my signature style so it was great to see it go in the back of the net.”
Brazil nearly pulled that goal right back. Ludmila came down the left for Brazil on a 2-v-1 break but tried to fire a shot rather than send a cross to an open teammate on the far post. The shot was blocked by Dunn and the chance evaporated. Andressa took a pass from Brazil captain and Orlando Pride star Marta, then put a shot just over the bar and onto the top of the net in the 17th minute as Brazil continued to press for an equalizer. Much of Brazil’s attacking success came down its left side, where Sonnett was defending.
The game settled in a bit after that, with neither side creating much danger. Press had a shot blocked in the 39th minute and her rebound took a deflection wide that made for an easy collection for Barbara. Lavelle had a chance in the 41st that was straight at the goalkeeper from outside the area. Morgan got her head to a Horan cross in the 43rd but couldn’t make good contact and sent the shot wide.
Brazil had the last decent chance to score on a 3-on-2 break but Ludmila’s cross for Debinha skipped through the six-yard box and over the line for a goal kick. The USWNT took its slim 1-0 lead into the half but both sides could have scored more goals.
“One thing that we know (is) if we give them a lot of space as a unit, they’re going to expose it, and I thought in the first half, we didn’t do a good enough job in closing the space and once again we were caught on the counter attack,” Andonovski said. “But in the second half, after we adjusted the structure a little bit, I thought we did an incredible job in defending their transition.”
The U.S. out-shot Brazil in the first half, 12-5 (4-1 on target) and won the possession battle, 59%-41%.
Andonovski said that at halftime had Ertz drop deeper and had the fullbacks not both commit forward at the same time to prevent Brazil’s dangerous counter attacks. For the most part it worked, but Brazil fashioned some opportunities through sheer determination and quality on the ball.
The United States looked set to take control in the opening moments after the break when Press weaved through seemingly the entire Brazilian team to get to goal but then passed off and it was deflected away.
Horan’s free header on a Sonnett cross in the 56th should have doubled the lead but she couldn’t keep her shot down and it sailed over the goal. Five minutes later, Morgan’s pass unlocked the defense and sent Williams in behind the defense but the North Carolina Courage star slowed down after collecting the ball, allowing the defense to close her down from behind. In the end, she got only a weak shot off and it was deflected.
Lavelle curled a shot wide in the 71st minute and it started to look like the USWNT would have to settle for its lone goal. Lavelle had a couple of other opportunities in the attack where she tried to finesse through multiple players rather than play in a teammate.
Debinha should have tied the game in the 82nd minute. Sonnett got beat to give Brazil a numbers advantage and Marta — who played a terrific game for the Brazilians — found Debinha right in front but her shot skipped just wide.
Just wide!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 21, 2021
Brazil gets their best chance of the second half pic.twitter.com/dAuvuRuYXk
A minute later, Ludmila dribbled around Dunn and crossed in a ball that deflected off Marta and out for a goal kick.
Another chance for Brazil!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 21, 2021
They continue to keep the pressure on late in this game pic.twitter.com/8jmEI4GniP
“As soon as they can get a touch on the ball, they’re running down your throat,” Press said of the Brazilians.
“Part of the reason why Brazil had more of the game is because that’s what we wanted to do, where you know we dropped off a little bit,” Andonovski said. “Eventually (we) went with five in the back, so that was the thing that we went to just close the game down.”
Second-half sub Sophia Smith had an opportunity in the 87th when fellow substitute Lloyd played her in but she took way too many touches and got dispossessed in the area without even getting a shot off.
However, the Yanks got their insurance goal a minute later. Horan made a run down the right side and crossed into the area where Rapinoe swept home a shot that hit Barbara but went in anyway, giving the USWNT some breathing room in the 88th minute. It was Rapinoe’s 55th career goal with the U.S.
The U.S. held on from there, winning another hard-fought match in the tournament against FIFA’s eighth-ranked team. The U.S. ended with a 17-10 advantage in shot attempts and a 5-2 edge in shots on target on a wasteful afternoon.
The United States improved to 30-3-5 in the all-time series against Brazil and has now gone 36 games without a loss (33-0-3) and has scored in 65 consecutive matches — the team’s longest ever streak.
Naeher posted her 10th consecutive clean sheet, which is a USWNT record streak. It was also her 40th career shutout.
“I’m really proud of the team actually,” Dunn said. “It’s funny because I think every time I’m on this team wearing this jersey, I feel like everyone expects us to never have a shot on goal against us or, you know, no team to ever create a chance, and I can sit here and say I think we played a great game.”
Canada 1-0 Argentina
In the late match, a late scramble off a set piece broke Argentinian hearts, snapping a scoreless tie in the second minute of stoppage time. Sarah Stratagakis got on the end of a ball ping-ponging around the Argentina penalty area and poked it home to lift the Canadians to their first ever SheBelieves Cup win, eliminating Argentina from contention.
Orlando Pride midfielder Jordyn Listro got her first career cap for Canada. Former Pride defender Shelina Zadorsky also started for the Canadians.
Canada was on the back foot in the opening moments after a pair of back-to-back giveaways by Sophie Schmidt but after that, most of the game took place in Argentina’s end. Despite that, the Canadians created very few clear-cut chances, coming closest 23 minutes in when a poor clearance resulted in a chance in front but a deflection sent the ball skipping just wide of the net.
Just past the half-hour mark, Argentina nearly opened the scoring off a corner kick. The delivery found the head of Soledad Jaimes, but her shot went straight at Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe.
Schmidt sent a free kick just wide in the 35th minute, as Canada continued to threaten the Argentine goal. Jessie Fleming then found herself alone with the ball in front of goal moments later but slotted her shot wide of the target. That was it for the first-half chances and the teams went to the break scoreless.
The second half picked up where the first left off. Canada kept the pressure on but struggled to find that last bit of connectivity in front. Labbe started straying further and further upfield. Argentina tried to punish her for it after a turnover but the shot from three-quarters of the field had neither the accuracy nor the distance to reach the net.
Zadorsky hit a volley right at goalkeeper Agustina Barroso in the 54th minute and Adriana Leon fired wide of the target from a good cross in the 55th as Canada continued to threaten to find an opening goal.
Jaimes had a chance to snatch a goal against the run of play in the 62nd minute when Labbe was caught out on a turnover but the shot was well wide of the far post. Canada was very lucky to escape an embarrassing goal. In the 66th, Jaimes headed a looping shot off the top of the crossbar off a set piece. Canada looked to get away with a handball in the box on the ensuing corner, but it also didn’t appear to be a corner as Labbe didn’t look to get a touch of the Jaimes header.
Most of the match consisted of Canada squandering balls into the area and setting up for set pieces. That finally proved to be the key to their success in finding the game’s only goal. In the second minute of stoppage time, Argentina failed to clear a service into the box and it bounced around before finding Stratagakis, who poked it past Barroso for the game’s only goal.
Canada saw out the final four minutes of stoppage time and held on for the win. Argentina was knocked out of contention with no points after two matches and a -4 goal differential. Canada stays in contention with three points and a an even goal differential, meaning the Canadians will need to beat Brazil on Wednesday, have the U.S. lose to Argentina in the late game, and make up several goals on the United States, which is +3 on six points after two matches.
The SheBelieves Cup concludes on Wednesday night after Canada meets Brazil in the early match at 4 p.m. and the USWNT faces Argentina in the nightcap at 7 p.m. The United States would win the tournament with a win or a draw.