With wind and sleet howling around them, the USA ground out a difficult win in Columbus tonight with a 1-0 victory over Germany in their first match of the SheBelieves Cup.
Both teams had similar ideas at kickoff— try and set the pace as early as possible. The first 10 minutes or so were fast, with both sides flying forward to steal and early goal and set the terms of the debate. This led to some anxious moments at both ends, with German defenders scrambling to clear balls in their own box and, in one breathless episode, seeing Alyssa Naeher flopping onto her own teammate in order to smother a ball.
After some hectic play and one or two missed opportunities, the US ultimately grabbed that first goal in the 17th minute. A flick-on ball squeezed out ahead of Germany’s backline and Megan Rapinoe managed to race onto it; Almuth Schult got a hand on Rapinoe’s shot but couldn’t keep it out.
A bit of a garbage goal, but in these weather conditions both teams were going to have to be content with whatever they could get.
Minutes after the US opened the scoring, Kelley O’Hara nearly scored an own goal and made a rookie positioning mistake while defending a corner. Clearly the Americans weren’t going to be able to coast tonight.
As the first half rolled on the game turned into something of a mess. More defensive scrambling at both ends. A shot from Mallory Pugh that got caught in the wind and hung in mid-air for a hot second before dropping right in between Schult and a defender. US players faceplanting in midfield. Not the prettiest game you’ll ever see, that’s for sure.
The Americans got their first real scare of the tournament about five minutes before the end of the half when Lindsey Horan got hit with a touch tackle and landed badly on her arm. The hit was bad enough to require a visit from the physios and a couple minutes drinking water on the touchline, but she checked back into the game soon enough.
Three peeps after 45 minutes and the USA came off the pitch looking surprisingly dejected despite the winning position. Maybe it was fatigue. Maybe Germany were proving tougher to break down than anticipated. Maybe they weren’t relishing the thought of playing against the wind for the back half of the game.
And to be fair, that was a perfectly valid concern that played out as expected. Naeher having to perform in these conditions should’ve earned her a major non-sports award. Like a Peabody. Or a MacArthur Genius Grant. Something to make playing in these raw conditions in a friendly worthwhile. But they did come out in the second half looking a little more determined, and almost got an early bite at Germany’s goal. But the weather continued to worsen, with visible snowflakes beginning to sleet down.
By the time the 70th minute rolled around, the players looked like they were climbing Everest with nothing but a Christmas sweater and a positive attitude— faces red and raw, legs wobbly, eyes frosted over. At times it seemed as if the fouls were increasing— in frequency and intensity— largely so players could get the blood flowing and stave off exposure. A particularly nasty hit by Alexandra Popp brought Kelley O’Hara’s night to an early end.
Ellis made some subs to try and change up her midfield; Morgan Brian was on for Lloyd in the 64th, Savannah McCaskill on for Ertz in the 72nd. By this time everyone was fairly miserable and frozen, so they weren’t necessarily big sparks, but neither were they liabilities. Casey Short came on for O’Hara in the 79th and did a very competent job at keeping Germany shut down.
Between the weather and the naturally-emergent rivalry between the world #1 and #2, things started getting tense as 90’ approached. Ellis also threw in a couple of end-game subs with Lynn Williams in for Pugh in the first minute of stoppage and Allie Long in for Morgan about a minute before final whistle.
"Don't pick a fight with me, you won't come out alive. I'll go right through you and you'll end up on the floor." -@kelleymohara quoting Phantom Thread #SheBelieves #USAvsGER pic.twitter.com/8eblOPZ06h— Rachel Rose Gold (@RachelRoseGold1) March 2, 2018
But the USA held pat, protecting a one-goal lead from horrendous conditions and a determined Germany squad and closing out the game for the win. Roll on France.
- Credit to the 14k fans in attendance for sticking it out in awful weather and staying in good voice.
- Dahlkemper looks waaaay better when she isn’t paired up with Sauerbrunn.
- I’m worried that Casey Short isn’t being given a fair hearing. She deserves more minutes than what she’s getting.
- A few players went off nursing injuries. Let’s hope none of them are serious.
I’m really hoping Ellis rotates the squad for Sunday. Maybe give Morgan a rest and play Press up top. But this is Jill Ellis, soooooo yeah.
USA vs France at 12 PM ET on March 4 at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey. The game will air live on ESPN2 and stream on WatchESPN.