The problems that you might have noticed watching the USWNT at the start of Olympic qualifying persisted as they started SheBelieves tonight in Orlando. This is a team whose players are clearly not in season, and it showed in their first half against England. Nobody looked particularly sharp, except perhaps Alyssa Naeher, Rose Lavelle, and Julie Ertz. Everyone had their mistakes, like Crystal Dunn letting a player slip behind her, or Tobin Heath taking one too many dribbles, or Carli Lloyd not finishing some on-a-plate chances.
Of course, the US played in their unrelenting high-pressure style, and though England tried early to really hammer at Kelley O’Hara, eventually they were pushed farther and farther back, starting the ball from deeper. By about the 35’ England were leaving a lot of space for the US to eat up, allowing them to push all the way past midfield before applying pressure. They didn’t look super confident answering the challenges from the US midfield, but neither did they look that hesitant either. And they certainly had several good chances on both set pieces and open play, like in the 26’ when a corner kick got flicked delicately right over Carli Lloyd and Alyssa Naeher had to double-punch the ball as she was falling.
Naeher’s counterpart, Carly Telford, also had a good first half, stuffing Lindsey Horan in the 23’ on what should have been a high-probability chance on goal. Lloyd had several looks at goal, including a prime chance from a beauty served up to her by Lavelle in the 28’, and then another crisp ball from Heath in the 31’ that had Lloyd looking slightly unprepared to one-time it.
The half ended at 0-0 and no clear sense of who would be first to open up the scoring, although the US had more momentum.
The second half opened at a slower tempo, England trying to do the patient thing and probe intelligently for an opening. Nikita Parris nearly got the better of Crystal Dunn in the 52’ giving her the slip in the space between defenders, but Becky Sauerbrunn was there. Parris was a real problem for the US in the first 10 minutes of the half, but momentum swerved abruptly in 53’ as Christen Press curled a beautiful ball into the side of the goal from well outside the 18.
Carli Lloyd promptly followed that up with a definitive rebuke of her first half performance.
The first US sub was in the 62’ as Christen Press left the field for Megan Rapinoe. Pre-game commentary indicated Rapinoe still isn’t entirely fit, and she definitely looked like she didn’t quite have her legs under her during her time on the pitch. She’s lost a step getting to balls and had the same problem as the rest of the team in anticipating the play to the open player, leading to some missed opportunities in front of goal.
Two more subs came in the 70’ as Lynn Williams and Sam Mewis came in for Heath and Lavelle, respectively. It was a frustrating game for Heath, not least of which was due to having her hair pulled (!) by Georgia Stanway just before Press’ goal. Lavelle had a better night, looking her usual fresh self on the ball, with a delightful defensive tackle to boot in the 63’ to help out O’Hara.
Lloyd continued to look better in this half, owning a lot of the space in the arc on top of the 18-yard box. She and Rapinoe actually looked like like they had a good connection, but they were just half a step off on some of their tight passing.
The last sub was in the 89’ as Lloyd came off for Jess McDonald. In terms of wanting to put pressure on England and preserve a shutout, McDonald is a sub you perhaps want to bring on a bit earlier, maybe even instead of Rapinoe, allowing her to rest longer. But as it were, the US still pretty much dominated the second half, and England getting away only two goals down is as much a function of the US still being in low gear as much as it was any English attempt at defending.