(Side note: if you’re confused by the naming on the jerseys from this game, as part of SheBelieves, USWNT players picked the name of a woman who inspired them to display on their jerseys tonight.)
If you wondered how Jill Ellis might rotate her roster in the second game of SheBelieves, the answer was “not at all.” The only change from their first game against Japan was starting Adrianna Franch in goal, though due to necessity rather than any impulse to give her a cap, as Naeher was listed with a shoulder injury in the lineup notes. JP Dellacamera noted on the broadcast that Naeher was expected to be out 7 to 10 days.
It was a slow start for England in the first half, but the United States was unable to properly capitalize on it. They did have a big handful of early corners, but despite dominating the 18-yard-box, weren’t able to quite get the ball over the line. The US also had trouble coherently playing through their midfield, with England nipping at Julie Ertz’s heels to the cost of several fouls, and sticking tight to Tobin Heath as well. Mal Pugh didn’t look confident in her role, whether it was a bad pass or the team’s positioning not giving her a clear channel. There were a lot of balls over, looking for Alex Morgan in stride, and to Morgan’s credit she almost made a meal out of a couple of them regardless of their quality.
Morgan once again put in a lot of the quieter work that she displayed in the game against Japan, whether dropping to spring a teammate, pulling a defender, or the lovely dummy she set up in the 24’, putting Rose Lavelle in position to snap a long-range shot.
The US kept withdrawing before trying to surge forward again and finally broke through in the 33’ through Kelley O’Hara’s flank buildup on the right. Her cross to Morgan ended up dropping for Rapinoe, who chested it to set up the half-volley and an absolute sizzler of a goal, making it 1-0.
England were quick to strike back though, given the opportunity a few minutes later when Adrianna Franch picked up a backpass and gave up an indirect free. Steph Houghton stood over the ball and curved it through a break in the defensive walls to equalize in the 36’. It was a deeply unfortunate moment marring Franch’s first cap, and another good reason why it’s so important to get more keepers playing time to reduce the likelihood of brain farts.
The US managed to generate more offense by pinching Heath and Rapinoe in and overlapping Dunn and O’Hara. Near the end of the half Dunn switched a fantastic cross to O’Hara, who tried to dink it into Morgan’s path right in front of the goal, but it a step off. If the US had managed to keep even half of their feeds to Morgan’s feet tighter on target, they might have built an early lead by two or even three goals. As it were, teams went into halftime tied at 1-1.
The second half showed some glimmers of promise before devolving into a mess. Once again Ellis started things off by temporarily rearranging the players into a 5-back of sorts, dropping Ertz between her center backs and moving Pugh and Lavelle into a hodgepodge double pivot. The US pushed higher, but it was England who opened the scoring this time. Nikita Parris dropped away from both Davidson and Dunn in the box while Dahlkemper kept her onside, and finished far post to put England up 2-1 in the 52’.
The US made their first sub shortly thereafter, bringing on Press in the 55’ for Mal Pugh. Press went in at right forward, dropping Heath into the midfield, where she drifted both horizontally and vertically as more subs came on and rearranged the formation.
The US also made a sub in the 60’, bringing back Becky Sauerbrunn and pulling Kelley O’Hara. O’Hara looks to be steadily building her time on the field after a her planned 45 minutes against Japan and provided some important width for the US tonight. Meanwhile, with Sauerbrunn back, Davidson pushed out to left back and Dunn switched to right back.
Then a sub in the 64’ with Lavelle off for Sam Mewis; Mewis’ presence was long overdue, not particularly as a sub for Lavelle, but simply as a strong ballwinning midfield presence with better distribution out.
The US finally tied things up in the 67’ with a chaotic goal off a corner kick. It seemed as though England might have expected the whistle for a foul, but as it never came, the US kept poking at the ball, England kept scrambling, and Heath eventually managed to bundle it over the line.
The combination of Mewis, Heath, and Ertz managed to push England back a bit, even though they were continuously cycling positions, with Ertz sometimes high and Heath low or vice-versa. When Ertz pushed high, she definitely pressured England, harrying them all through the box and generally making life hard.
The final sub came in the 87’ with Carli Lloyd coming on for Crystal Dunn. Ertz dropped more permanently into the CB spot with Sauerbrunn and Lloyd went into right midfield. By then, there didn’t seem to be a game plan at all. There were individual moments of connection - Rapinoe feeding Morgan a lovely ground ball, Mewis hitting Rapinoe as she drifted centrally, another long ball dropping into the box for Morgan - but as a team, there really wasn’t a coherent attack. “Too many technical errors, too many tactical lapses,” Rapinoe told the broadcast crew right after the game. Certainly the players had their fair share of mediocre first touches and passes gone awry, but not to an egregious level. Instead the midfield was a crapshoot, with no one unifying them or having a particularly defined role, especially at the end. The difference between fluidity and chaos is the players knowing their roles in each position; tonight against England, they would exchange positions but seem to not know their roles.
There’s one more game to go during SheBelieves; Brazil hasn’t looked the strongest against Japan and England, so this could be a good chance for the US to fix their bigger problems. Otherwise, this was hardly confidence-inspiring stuff less than 100 days out to the Women’s World Cup.
USA vs Brazil
Tuesday, March 5
8 PM ET / 5 PM PT
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL