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Tournament of Nations: USA grits out 4-3 win over Brazil

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It was a wild result from a confusing, disjointed game.

Soccer: Tournament of Nations - Women's Soccer-Brazil at USA Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Starting XI: Alyssa Naeher, Taylor Smith, Abby Dahlkemper, Casey Short, Kelley O’Hara, Samantha Mewis, Becky Sauerbrunn, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan

Jill Ellis shook up her starting XI against Brazil, moving Becky Sauerbrunn out of the defense and into defensive mid. Considering the problems in the last game against Australia were a complete lack of attacking mid, perhaps she was attempting to both shore up that area in front of the 18 against Marta while freeing Carli Lloyd and Sam Mewis to go up more. It didn’t really work.

The game started off on the wrong foot as Andressinha scored for Brazil in the 2’. She had all the space in the world in front of the 18 to get off a long-range shot and Alyssa Naeher compounded the error by bobbling what should have been a routine save.

The United States tried to press back with ragged surges up the wings, mostly through Megan Rapinoe on the left. Crystal Dunn had a few efforts on the right, but she definitely looked like a player who is currently out of season with her club and hasn’t regularly been around the rest of the USWNT.

Samantha Mewis leveled the score in the 18’, played into space by Rapinoe. Mewis took her chances with a low, hard shot that was always slipping under Brazil’s goalkeeper Bárbara.

Despite Mewis’ equalizer, the United States really had nothing up its spine. Sauerbrunn did her job, dropping between the CBs and sometimes bailing out her fullbacks when they got beat by a Brazilin turning the corner, but in front of her Mewis and Lloyd were really not in the game, Lloyd moreso than Mewis. Mewis at least was able to carry the ball into the attacking third a few times and then look for Morgan or Dunn, but the final passes were less than incisive. Her best look fed Morgan who found herself at a steep angle looking at goal - too steep for her tastes, as she cut it back, but she couldn’t quite hit Megan Rapinoe in the box.

A lot of the attacking in the first half really came from individual players seeming to decide it was their turn to make a run, only to end up dinking their final passes into the Brazilian defense. They had very little rhythm as a whole and were constantly scrambling back to regain possession and try to push up again.

The team came out looking just as disjointed in the second half. Mal Pugh had to come on in the 53’ for Crystal Dunn, who left with an injury. Sauerbrunn pushed a little higher under the attackers, trying to keep the ball in the attacking third, but eventually returned to the back line in the 57’ as Julie Ertz subbed in for Taylor Smith. The back line rearranged itself into a more familiar configuration of Short - Sauerbrunn - Dahlkemper - O’Hara with Ertz taking the DM role, a move that Ellis perhaps should have just started off with if she wanted a change in midfield. Ellis also subbed Alex Morgan out for Christen Press.

Ertz immediately made an impact, hitting a deep ball for Rapinoe, who centered it for Mal Pugh. Pugh was going 100 mph and didn’t get a good touch on the ball, popping it over the goal. Her finishing and decisions in the final third were not great on the night; it’s probably good to remember she is still very much a 19-year-old rookie for club and country and seeing if she can consistently elevate her game will be part of the maturation process for her.

Meanwhile, Brazil pulled ahead in the 63’ off a corner with Marta hitting it far post. Bruna Benites sneaked in right behind Kelley O’Hara and finished it one time to make it 2-1.

The United States continued making their uncoordinated attacks, with several balls going aimlessly forward. The United States managed one of their good combos with Carli Lloyd moving the ball to Mewis, who found O’Hara wide. O’Hara hit a great ball in for Press, who headed it over.

Sydney Leroux subbed on in the 77’ for Casey Short, turning it into a 4-3-3 of sorts. Brazil scored again in the 78’ as Kelley O’Hara apparently fouled Marta, who went down outside the 18. Andressinha hit a great free kick into the goal while Alyssa Naeher had the sun in her eyes.

But this is where the game got frantically interesting. The United States responded immediately, with Rapinoe putting Press in with a very tidy through ball. Press got there first in the box, danced a bit to put the ball in position, and shot it near post with a beautiful bit of curl to make it 3-2 in the 80’.

Then in the 85’ it was Rapinoe again, Press returning the favor with a huge cross that Rapinoe brought down with a golden first touch. She blasted it at the goal and it bounced off of Bárbara’s gloves and in to make it 3-3.

And to top it all off, O’Hara once again fed the ball into the box where it didn’t get cleared, only to have Julie Ertz pounce and finish it in the 89’ to make the final score 4-3.

Let’s be clear here, the result does not at all represent the quality of play. The United States were disorganized and disconnected. Alyssa Naeher had a very bad night. The attack once again suffered from a lack of distribution out of the middle to connect the defense and forwards. Some of the forwards didn’t make good decisions around the goal. Megan Rapinoe was probably a good 50% if not a full two-thirds of the attack. And all of that stacked against a Brazil that honestly wasn’t that sharp. Their set pieces clearly outclassed the United States on the day, but other than that they looked like a side that could have gotten turned on their heads by a team with a better ability to possess. If Jill Ellis is intent on having people examine her process rather than her results, this was certainly fuel for those who think US results come in spite of her process.