It was a rough start for the United States women’s national team as they took on Canada in Vancouver tonight. They completely lacked any kind of rhythm on what looked like an already rhythmless surface in BC Place, unable to compensate for bad bounces and odd weights on passes with good touches and clear movement.
Both teams brought a lot of energy - Canada especially seemed to want an intense first half, energized by a sold-out hometown crowd. But when the United States wasn’t absorbing Canada’s direct balls and looking for a channel into the wings, they were equally turning over possession and having to reset through Sauerbrunn and Ertz. Alex Morgan’s current run of great form didn’t mean much with the team unable to find her in the attacking third. Megan Rapinoe and Lynn Williams did push along the wings a bit, Williams especially able to beat Allysha Chapman with speed, but neither one could find a decisive ball in. The best US chance early on was from Rapinoe, who exploited a Canadian defense in disarray when she took an acre of empty space on the left, danced into the box, and pinged it off the inside of the post in the 11’.
Alex Morgan did manage to break the deadlock in the 31’ through sheer persistence. With three Canadian defenders scrambling to cover her, she kept her cool and shot it under a player and past Steph Labbe to make it 1-0.
But then Canada made an early sub, putting in Adriana Leon for Deanne Rose, who might have collided head to head earlier with Labbe in the box, and Canada once again picked up momentum attacking the US box with Leon pressuring the box relentlessly.
Alyssa Naeher had an odd first half, is probably the best that could be said of her frequent decisions to come off the line whether or not it was wise, which seemed to betray a lack of connection to her back four. In the 35’ she dashed out with Leon trying to pounce on a loose ball at the top of the 18 only to misjudge it, compounded by miscommunication with the defense. Naeher was fully out of the 18 and it was very lucky no Canadian managed to put their foot through the ball on an open net.
Teams went into the second half at 1-0 but Canada continued to pour on pressure. The United States really didn’t seem to have an answer, either to Canada’s constant press, or to their inability to possess the ball and make more than three tidy passes in a row. Instead they seemed to revert to some ugly old habits, several times trying to put the ball over into space but in almost aimlessly hopeful way. Then Canada finally capitalized on all the pressure around the box, peppering the goal with rebounds in the 57’ until finally Adriana Leon was able to finish off a cheeky over-the-shoulder attempt from Christine Sinclair to make it 1-1.
Canada continued pressing for the rest of the half, which didn’t allow the United States any room to break out in the last 15 minutes as they sometimes do under high pressure by simply outlasting the opposition. The US midfield of Horan, Mewis, and Ertz didn’t really have much in the way of going forward, which Jill Ellis looked to rectify in the 65’ by subbing Carli Lloyd in for Mewis. But Lloyd wasn’t the answer either; she was just as turnover-prone as the rest of the team and wasn’t able to put anyone into space or open up space for them with her movement. And then with Rapinoe and Short off for Christen Press and Taylor Smith in the 66’, the US lost some dynamic flank movement as well. Neither Press nor Smith were able to fulfill the role Ellis surely was hoping they’d fill by pulling the action wide. There were scant crosses for Alex Morgan, who sometimes had to drop deep to help dig the ball out.
Another midfield sub came in the 74’ as Julie Ertz came off for Andi Sullivan. Horan-Lloyd-Sullivan was a clear attempt to get more into the attack than Horan-Ertz-Mewis, but for once the United States was the one trying to cope with non-stop physical intensity to the last whistle instead of vice-versa. Kelley O’Hara was by far the grittiest US player out on the pitch, scrapping to the end and even accidentally giving 16-year-old Jordyn Huitema a bloody forehead cut in a big collision as Huitema hip-checked her into the air.
But Canada had the best chances of the second half, and it was a big time save from Alyssa Naeher in the 84’ that kept things level as Maegan Kelly got between the CBs, touched down a great ball inside the box, and managed to squeeze off a shot. Naeher was quickly off her line to make herself big in front of Kelly and managed to swat the ball away and onto the post for a deflection out.
A very late sub of Allie Long on for Lynn Williams in the 87’ didn’t really do much but confuse the formation, and the game ended at 1-1. This was probably one of the sloppiest games the WNT put on in 2017. Some of this is attributable to the substandard surface; you could clearly tell they were having trouble with the bounce and even with their own footing. But as we saw from Canada, bad conditions can only hold you back so much. It wasn’t that Canada was particularly superb tonight, at least from a technical standpoint, but they were competent and high-intensity and the United States wasn’t, and that was enough to have the US just barely squeaking out of Vancouver with a tie. A lot of mediocre individual performances just couldn’t deal with a hyped Canadian team playing at home. The real question now is if Canada can possibly repeat this for another 90 on US soil. The United States will surely regroup, and you shouldn’t expect that listless a performance out of players like Mewis and Ertz two games in a row.
The United States next plays Canada on November 12 at 9 PM ET at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. The game will air live on FS1.