The United States went into their last game of the Tournament of Nations knowing they needed to win by at least two in order to top the standings. But honestly, winning a friendly tournament seemed incidental to the frustration of just not being able to put the ball in the net in the first half, followed by the exuberance of finally figuring it out in the second.
Of note, Rose Lavelle finally returned to a starting spot in the midfield, and she immediately combined with Tobin Heath along the right to put in crosses. She had a beautiful feed for Heath that bypassed three players in a tight column in the 6’, and made a great run a couple minutes later for the feed from Heath. Megan Rapinoe was creating her own personal brand of havoc on the left side as well, sometimes lingering unmarked between Brazil’s lines. But again, the US wasn’t quite on target, and Brazil gobbled up plenty of loose balls for fast counterattacks, which bit the US early on in the 16’. The defense was pressed high with the rest of the team, with space in behind Emily Sonnett, and with Brazil sucking defenders towards the run, a low-chance shot deflected off of Tierna Davidson for an own goal to make it 1-0 for Brazil.
The team responded pretty well, shifting the focus of their attacks through different points in the midfield. Sometimes it was Horan trying to drag the play through the middle, sometimes it was Ertz stepping up to create pressure, and sometimes it was Lavelle finding space. It did make for a pretty vertical half; the US might have benefited from more dynamic switching in the midfield. They pumped a lot of crosses in Brazil’s box, though, even if they weren’t finding the right targets.
Finally, Lavelle tied everything up in the 34’. She sneaked into space and waited patiently for Horan’s ball, hitting it neatly on the half volley and finishing it in the back corner to make it 1-1.
Rose Lavelle equalizes for the USWNT with a sweet half-volley! pic.twitter.com/0KrxHpaw7x— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 3, 2018
The first half devolved a little bit from there, with a lot of physical battles up and down both flanks. Crystal Dunn fought hard the entire half trying to keep the press as high as she could on the wing and Rapinoe repeatedly drove through traffic in the box. She might have had a goal wrongly called off late in the half, although it was a close call with other US players coming back from their offside positions.
The teams went into halftime at 1-1, although it could have been 3 or 4-0 if a couple of balls had been a couple of inches closer. The US clearly had the better of the half, just looking off on their finishing and needing to be smarter about biting too soon on counters.
Lavelle subbed off as planned for the second half, replaced by McCall Zerboni in the midfield. It was a relatively subdued game for Zerboni by her usual standards, although she was still fighting Brazil every step of the way as they attempted to keep up their energy in the second half. But the Lavelle goal was just the first crack in the dam, and Julie Ertz doubled the score in the 53’ with a fantastic late run to finish a doozy of a Tobin Heath cross.
Julie Ertz gives the USWNT the lead early in the second half— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 3, 2018
They need 1 more unanswered to take home the Tournament of Nations trophy! pic.twitter.com/weVUKm4qPK
Brazil had a golden chance in the 56’ as Dunn couldn’t keep up with her defender and left Naeher wide open for a cross and chance, but the shot was skied over. From that point on it was really the United States’ show. Becky Sauerbrunn did a good job screening Marta while the rest of the team continued deconstructing Brazil’s shape.
Tobin Heath made it three in the 61’ with this nice, low strike.
Tobin Heath gives the USWNT the all-important 2-goal lead! pic.twitter.com/S7QtTGvzAu— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 3, 2018
Heath came off in the 69’ for Casey Short, who slotted in at left back as usual and pushed Dunn top right. The US clearly felt quite free at this point, with Ertz sometimes pushing so high centrally she was essentially the US’ target forward.
The last goal of the game came after Alex Morgan got fouled hard outside of Brazil’s 18. Rapinoe set up over the free kick and Morgan had her revenge, making a deceptively simple touch on the ball to redirect it into goal.
Stop us if you've heard this before...— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 3, 2018
Megan Rapinoe finds Alex Morgan to put the USWNT up 4-1! pic.twitter.com/zHErcxP2QI
Carli Lloyd came on for Rapinoe after that, going in at central forward in the 80’ which pushed Morgan wide left. She and Dunn had a few nice moments, with Lloyd pulling lots of defenders and freeing Dunn on the wing. A nice chipped ball over from Horan almost landed just right for Lloyd, once again surrounded by defenders, but they closed down on the attack.
The last US subs were in the 88’ and 90’. Abby Dahlkemper came on for Dunn and Christen Press came on for Morgan, who took one last clattering from a Brazilian and had to be stretchered off after holding her left ankle. The team shifted into a 5-4-1, with Dahlkemper dropping between Davidson and Sauerbrunn, and they finished things out professionally..
It was a good rally from the United States after the own goal; though they looked susceptible early on to Brazil’s lightning fast counters, they adjusted, took Marta mostly out of the game, pressed high according to their game plan, and got four goals from four different scorers. It helped that Brazil was a mess defensively, but at the same time, the US still had to be sharp to take advantage of the chaos.
Now players will return to their NWSL clubs; many of these clubs are still vying for playoff spots, and no doubt there are several relieved coaches who will be getting back healthy players. On WNT radar, they’ll come together again in late August for a two-game friendly series against Chile, to be played at StubHub Center in Carson and Avaya Stadium in San Jose.