The United States defeated England 1-0 in the final match of the SheBelieves tournament, doing just enough to secure victory in the tournament. It wasn’t a pretty game, but it was good enough.
Winner takes all! Meet our starting XI for the #SheBelievesCup finale.— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) March 7, 2018
Lineup notes » https://t.co/DKXpeAbgfN pic.twitter.com/nl0qIaLTxC
One of the big questions going into the match was whether Jill Ellis would rotate. We got the answer when the starting XI came out, showing quite a few similarities, but a few big changes, with Emily Sonnett receiving a start for the first time in a long time. Meanwhile, Crystal Dunn also got her first start, but at left back. Those two decisions exposed just how limited the fullback options seem to be. With both Casey Short and Kelley O’Hara out with injuries, and Ellis apparently having lost faith in Taylor Smith and Sofia Huerta, it was left to Sonnett and Dunn to fill the roles. Further up, Ellis selected a midfield of Lindsey Horan, Carli Lloyd, and Allie Long—a formation that on its face offered very little hope of improving the passing game. Still, with all those changes, there was also some real continuity, with the forward three, central defensive pair, and goalkeeper all remaining identical to the opening two matches.
The first half finished scoreless, and it wasn’t until the final few minutes of the half that either team came particularly close. Most of the time was spent with the US possessing the ball in their own half, content to slide horizontal passes back and forth while England sat back at the halfway line. The new midfield seemed to have all the same problems as the old one, finding very little success possessing the ball in the middle. However, the US did at least appear to have evolved a bit—with the midfield trio no longer even really pretending the try to dictate play. Instead, most attacks came from long diagonal balls over the top, mostly hit by Dahlkemper—who put on a real show of precision long passing. Still, even in those limited moments, the US attack managed to generate little, with several players appearing to suffer from a heavy first touch and a lack of quick movement. Lindsey Horan was particularly notable on this front.
On the other side, England equally found themselves stymied. After a searching period early in the half, they generally seemed content to hold tight. That meant that the US managed 70% possession through the first half hour, but with the vast majority having been spent in their own half under little pressure. England simply waited at the halfway line, ready to deal with balls as they came over the top, and hoping to spring a quick counter when they did recover possession.
Things picked up a bit for the final 15 minutes of the half, however, with England coming into the game a bit more, pushing their possession higher, and putting the US backline under pressure. The US press was generally quite aggressive, but not finding it as easy to contain England as they had Germany in the opening match. The weather conditions may have had something to do with it, with clear conditions allowing England to move the ball through the holes and gaps. And when they were able to clear the press, they found themselves open in space with a chance to break quickly.
Their best chances came in this period, with a couple searching through balls almost unlocking Jodie Taylor, only to be held off by Davidson long enough for Naeher to come out and sweep up the danger.
Through 40 minutes, England looked the likelier team to score, but in the final few minutes of the half the US finally found their attacking edge. It started in the 42nd minute, on yet another long diagonal ball into the box, with Horan getting half a look but not quite finding the angle. On the recovery, the US maintained possession and pinged the ball around the box, nearly scoring again in the goal-line scramble. A minute later, they were knocking once again, with Morgan falling under pressure at the corner of the box. The referee was not persuaded by calls for a penalty but undaunted, the US continued to lay on the pressure, with Pugh dribbling her way toward the top left corner and unleashing a shot that just missed the top corner. After a half that had seen little in the way of action, this was a welcome respite.
The second half started right where the first half ended, with a long ball over the top putting Pugh through on goal. Her shot was smothered by Bardsley, but it increasingly felt like it was just a matter of time before the US would score.
The next big chance came from a huge gift, with Bronze giving the ball away right at the top of the England box. Rapinoe received the ball drifting left in the box and unleashed a rocket toward the near post, which was turned away by Bardsley. England then followed up with a rocket of their own, sent in by the substitute Toni Duggan from 20 yards out, which sailed just a little wide of the top corner.
Then in the 58th minute, the deadlock was finally broken. Once again, however, it came from an English own goal. Rapinoe’s cross took two deflections, the second coming off England’s Bright and dribbling across the line.
We'll take that, thank you very much! The ⚪️& has its lead!#SheBelievesCup // #USAvENG pic.twitter.com/1EVgJjDxip— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) March 8, 2018
Now trailing, England started to press a bit higher, focusing most of their attack down the right, presumably with an eye on targeting Dunn in her role as the makeshift left back. On the whole, Dunn performed well under the pressure, making the occasional misstep but generally recovering in time to reset and engage in some solid one-on-one defending. As England pressed more and more aggressively, the US defense continued to hold, though without ever looking particularly solid.
It took until the 74th minute for the US to make their first substitutions, bringing on Morgan Brian and giving Sofia Huerta her first minutes in the tournament. This was accompanied by a tactical change, with Sonnet pushing into the central defense, allowing Dunn and Huerta to play as wing backs in a three-back setup. This tended to play as closer to a back-five, however, with the US mostly looking to hold onto their narrow lead. Still, for all the bodies in the back, England still managed to find quite a bit of space in the attack.
The next substitution came in the 80th minute, with Savannah McCaskill coming on for Rapinoe.
England came within inches of leveling in the 87th minute. After a pointless crunching challenge from Lloyd, England’s free kick from the corner of the box found Ellen White completely unmarked at the top of the six yard box, but her header went crashing off the inside of the post.
England continued to push for an equalizer through the final few minutes, but their legs seemed to have very little left. In the end, the US was able to see things out to a narrow 1-0 win, taking home victory on the night and for the tournament as a whole.
It wasn’t a particularly impressive performance from the US. But it was enough to eke out the win on the night and in the tournament.
How do you think the US did? Does the result make up for the performance? What are their chances going forward?