Although game 2 of this USA/China friendly series started off much like the first, there was some improvement over game 1.
The United States dominated from the start and China watched for their chance to break out, although this time they were much more physical in their challenges. With Crystal Dunn playing as high as possible as often as possible and Sam Mewis drifting in and out of the forward line, the US attack was fairly fluid in terms of player movement. Megan Rapinoe pulled centrally or wide as opportunity dictated and Alex Morgan sometimes came deeper to dig out the ball. For all that, the US often looked for the direct ball, wanting to put it over for Morgan in stride.
Christen Press was pretty much the fixed point of a lot of the attack, occupying space along the right without much challenge from China. She created more and more chances as the half went out as Mewis would set up from midfield, hit Press, and then join everyone in the push into the box for Press’ cross.
They might have had more chances but for sloppy passing in the first 30 minutes or so; misjudged timing, unforced turnovers, and a little bit of sluggishness had the US struggling to actually create chances. Their physicality and organization allowed them to recover almost every time, but a faster, more physical team might have been able to really punish the US while they found a rhythm.
Still, US momentum kept building and building. Nice ball movement in the 31’ put Rapinoe right in front of goal with the ball coming to her feet, but she was too unselfish, trying to lay it off for Alex Morgan. Morgan got tangled up with a Chinese player and though Julie Ertz pounced on the loose ball, she was offside.
Rapinoe took her chance a few minutes later. Once again Mewis fed Press in open space on the right and Press’ cross picked out Rapinoe far post. She nodded it down for an easy-looking finish to make it 1-0 in the 35’.
The US picked up steam after the goal, although China didn’t lose their nerve at all from conceding, and teams went into halftime still at 1-0.
The United States made one sub to start the second half, with Allie Long in for Morgan Brian. It wasn’t a stellar 45 minutes from Brian, but she’s still trying to battle her way to full fitness. Long dropped into the holding role and pushed Mewis and Ertz higher.
China immediately pressured the United States from the whistle, looking the most aggressive they’d been all game. But the US responded with a changeup of personnel, making two subs in the 57’, with Carli Lloyd on for Megan Rapinoe and Lindsey Horan on for Julie Ertz. Lloyd went in the 9 role, pushing Morgan left, and Horan was a like-for-like with Ertz.
The US began to once again break into the attack, whether it was through Dunn on the left or switching to find Press on the right. Rhythm had to wait, though, with another two subs in the 64’, Rose Lavelle coming on for Sam Mewis and Tobin Heath coming on for Alex Morgan. This was the first appearance in a WNT uniform for both Lavelle and Heath since last September; Heath went in at left forward and Lavelle behind her in the midfield. Both of them looked pretty strong at this point in their recoveries, Heath particularly so despite a scary moment late in the game when she sat down and called for the trainers before returning to the field.
Oddly enough, Becky Sauerbrunn and Tierna Davidson both kept stepping too high, exposing space in behind them. That’s how China caught them out in the 72’. Both Sauerbrunn and Davidson were challenging for the same ball and didn’t win it, leaving poor Crystal Dunn by her lonesome with multiple Chinese forwards running at the goal. Li Ying put the ball away to even the score for China at 1-1.
Ashlyn Harris had to make a big stop in the 74’ on a Chinese free kick that was swerving into the upper 90. The United States responded quickly, getting both Heath and Press in the box. A very lucky series of bounces and a swiping shot from Heath managed to get the ball looping over the keeper’s head to make it 2-1 in the 75’.
The last sub for the US came on in the 77’ as Sofia Huerta came off for Merritt Mathias. It wasn’t the best night for Huerta at right back as she was pretty ineffectual on both sides of the ball. But Davidson and Sauerbrunn also made their share of mistakes, with Davidson often losing out on challenges.
The US had a few more chances, including a late one in stoppage as Press dinked a nice ball over into Heath’s path, but Heath’s hold up play eventually got defended out. Heath definitely tried to take the game to China, looking to get in behind on both the left and right sides of the field. With a little more match fitness and more time, she probably could have made even more happen for the US.
Overall, the combination of mediocre execution from the US and tough discipline from China made for two close games. As several key players like Ertz, Brian, Heath, and Lavelle slowly come back to full match fitness, we may see that gap widen once again. Despite the errors, you could see how this game might have been 3 or 4-0 with a couple of players getting that half a step back.