The United States and Australia fought a close and somewhat disjointed game, in which the US showed real quality in patches, but struggled mightily to build coherent possession (stop me if you’ve heard this one before). The difference in the game was the finishing, with Australia burying their one excellent chance, and the US unable to find the net despite a number of excellent opportunities.
You've been waiting. We've been waiting. Let's play.— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) July 28, 2017
Introducing today's #USWNT Starting XI.
Lineup Notes: https://t.co/FcRSXEJY7G. pic.twitter.com/P7EjtjypeF
The starting XI featured a few interesting notes, with Taylor Smith earning her first cap, Megan Rapinoe making a return to the starting lineup, and Lindsey Horan getting a shot at forward. Tactically, they set up as a relatively straightforward 4-4-2, with Mewis and Long holding down the middle, Rapinoe and Pugh attacking from the wings, and Horan and Press providing the focal point for the attack.
It’s a lineup that was missing some of the biggest names—with players like Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Crystal Dunn, Morgan Brian, and Julie Ertz taking a seat. That was no great surprise, though, since Jill Ellis noted in her pregame press conference that she sees this tournament as a chance to test the squad’s depth. This is a lineup that reflects that goal, particularly up top, with both Press and Horan seemingly being given the chance to show what they can offer.
The first half featured a lot of interesting play, but no goals and hardly even a clear-cut chance. As they normally do, the US played primarily down the wings, using the wide mids to work play quickly up and down the pitch. Both Rapinoe and Pugh showed flashes in the opening minutes, putting a somewhat disjointed Australian defensive unit on the back heel. Rapinoe in particular seemed to have carried her strong NWSL form with her into the national team camp. In the opening ten minutes she made several slicing runs into the middle and sent deliciously weighted passes out to the right wing. The attacking pair of Press and Horan were extremely fluid, swapping sides regularly and each moving back fairly deep at times to link with the midfield. Of the two, Press found a lot more time on the ball, with Horan struggling to get involved in much play.
The first serious attacking move came in the 12th minute, with a wonderful team passing move started by a cheeky headed clearance from Sauerbrunn. Rather than simply knocking the ball away, she picked out a perfect ball and initiated the counter attack. Press and Rapinoe pushed forward, but ultimately Rapinoe couldn’t quite find the angle to finish her chance and the shot was saved by Williams.
Australia were mostly contained for the opening twenty minutes, with Sam Kerr mostly starved of the ball. They did have one close chance in the 20th minute, however, when Allie Long somewhat inexplicably chose to pass the ball through traffic in the six yard box back to the keeper. Kerr nearly snatched it, but the pass went just beyond her reach.
The rest of the first half held fairly steady, with both teams going back and forth trading weak chances. The US maintained the majority of possession, but (as usual) finding it hard to do much through the middle. They did almost conjure a goal out of nothing, with Horan sending in a wonderfully weighted ball and finding the outstretched leg of an onrushing Christen Press. It would have taken a perfect touch to send the ball over Williams and find the net, but for just a moment it looked possible.
On the other side, Australia also struggled to build much organically, but posed a real threat on the break, and creating a few half chances through their high pressure on the US backline and holding mids.
There was a brief injury scare in the 34th minute as Mallory Pugh went down holding her knee. But with a couple minutes of treatment she returned to the pitch and looked none the worse for wear.
The US made no substitutions at halftime, sticking with the same XI. And for the next fifteen minutes or so, the game continued on roughly the same track. If anything, things started to tilt slightly in Australia’s direction, as they grew more comfortable in possession and as the US attack grew more disjointed.
The first substitution came in the 58th minute, with Crystal Dunn coming on for Mallory Pugh—a like-for like substitution with Dunn slotting into the same position on the right wing. But even with that change, the US attack remained fairly muted. In seeming recognition of that fact, Ellis’s next move was to swap out her strike corps, bringing on Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan in place of Horan and Press.
But when the scoring deadlock was finally broken, it was Australia who managed it, pouncing on a chance created by a series of weak clearances on a corner. A rare mishit from Sauerbrunn left the ball loose, and a smoothly chipped ball over the top found Tameka Butt, who buried her shot.
.@TamekaButt stuns Seattle as she gives Australia the lead. #ToN2017 pic.twitter.com/wXtAdBHjLF— The Women's Game (@TheWomensGame) July 28, 2017
Just two minutes later, the US almost leveled the score, with a racing Rapinoe sending a ball across the face of goal where Lloyd sent in a powerful shot that Williams was able to parry away.
A minute later Sam Mewis suffered a collision that left her bleeding profusely from the face.
#USAvAUS #USWNT pic.twitter.com/rCNMeY5GOz— WoSo Comps (@WoSoComps) July 28, 2017
Somewhat strangely, this was not enough reason to sub her out, with her returning to the pitch a few minutes later. The US did make two other substitutions, however, in the 76th minute, with Kelley O’Hara coming on for Taylor Smith and Morgan Brian coming on for Allie Long.
They almost found their equalizer in the 78th minute, thanks to a great run from O’Hara down the right, but her cross in was cut out before it could find Rapinoe. Then, in the 82nd minute, Morgan also came close, shrugging off her defender but putting her shot wide. They US had another great chance in the 85th minute, with O'Hara picking out Dunn in the box. A delicate touch brought the ball down perfectly, but Dunn couldn't find a way past Williams and the shot went out for a corner.
The final minutes of the match dragged by slowly, with the US struggling to even get much of the ball, and not doing all that much with it once they had it. One final attack down the left fizzled out into an Australia throw-in, and the final whistle sounded.
There were positives in the match, but in the end, this was just one more example of the US failing to create, failing to finish their chances when they did come, and failing to win any points.