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SheBelieves: USA beats Canada 1-0 in tight-ish game

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There were some real hold-your-breath moments in this one, but the US came good in the end.

2021 SheBelieves Cup - United States v Canada Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Starting XI: Alyssa Naeher, Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Margaret Purce, Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz, Catarina Macario, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Lynn Williams

It was a slightly clunky first half from the United States as they took on northern neighbors Canada. If the thought was that Canada would be easy pickings due to a depleted roster, the thought was quickly dispelled due to the US’ own occasionally plodding midfield and loosey-goosey crossing and set pieces.

The US started out with their usual high pressing, gaining possession and position very early, looking really galvanized particularly through Crystal Dunn. Canada looked shaky, their goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan clearing a ball directly into Carli Lloyd’s legs, then Desiree Scott giving away an early foul right outside the 18-yard box for tackling Carli Lloyd. Megan Rapinoe’s free kick went into the Canadian wall, though.

Midge Purce also got in on the action; she and Dunn put in a real shift trying to execute their wide responsibilities, with Dunn often setting the play from the left touchline looking for targets from the forwards. They certainly attacked with their usual relentlessness, but not with precision, though some of it was also Canada’s determined, physical defending.

The US midfield wasn’t quite as mobile or involved in the play, kept at range by Canada, often containing Canada’s own midfield to keep them penned in, but not able to pressure Canada’s center into giving way or coming too far out of position.

Canada’s goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan was forced to come off early with some kind of non-contact injury, but though her substitute Stephanie Labbé looked shaky in her first few touches, the US wasn’t able to capitalize on a wobbly keeper.

The US had a great opportunity in the 20’ as Carli Lloyd cleverly rainbowed the ball over her head to Lynn Williams, who made a near no-look pass knowing that someone would be running into space. That was Catarina Macario arriving late and slipping past the defensive line punched up around Lloyd and Williams, but her showt was high and wide.

The game began to descend into chippiness, with Canada physically sticking tight to US players as part of their concentrated defensive efforts. The US earned several set pieces through pressure, not letting Canada out of their third, but wasn’t able to convert any chances. The line of confrontation began shifting towards the midfield, with Lindsey Horan doing more on the defensive side of the ball. But as the US wasn’t able to neatly close down these midfield forays, Canada nearly scored a quick one in the 38’ as no one picked up Janine Beckie on the far post for a cross.

The game really devolved near the end of the half, with Williams testing Labbé with shots at range, and a goalmouth scramble in stoppage after a bobbled shot that still didn’t yield a goal. The half ended at 0-0.

The US started the second half with no changes. Things immediately got physical again as both sides threw their bodies into ball challenges. Julie Ertz pushed high to try and help press on Canada’s players turtled up in the center, but even when the US was able to slip their playmakers the ball, they were all defended very tightly.

The fullbacks, often relied upon to win their 1-v-1 battles to create scoring chances, weren’t winning enough of them. Neither Purce nor Williams was finding much joy against Allysha Chapman. But conversely Lindsey Horan turned up the dial on her own physical intensity, playing ballwinner against all comers, cutting off players or simply tracking them down as they attempted to break away from her at speed.

The US had a snafu in the 59’ as a Dunn giveaway let Nichelle Prince run freely at the center backs. Prince managed to angle her run to just about beat Dahlkemper and Sauerbrunn, but fluffed her final ball, making some kind of abortive pass instead of shooting, letting the US off the hook. Then another giveaway, this time with Prince trying to drop the ball off for late-arriving Janine Beckie, whose shot selection was subpar and denied by Alyssa Naeher.

In the 63’ the US made a triple sub, pulling Rapinoe, Lloyd, and Macario for Christen Press, Alex Morgan, and Rose Lavelle. All three made a definite impact, Press able to help dominate the wide channel on and off with Dunn, Morgan providing an unpredictable and sometimes untrackable target in front of goal, and Lavelle opening up the midfield with her movement on and off the ball.

In the 69’ Dunn toyed with her defender, got around her, and crossed the ball for a Morgan header that was just wide of the post. The game opened up nearing the 75’, the US making mistakes in midfield that allowed Canada to pick up turnovers and push back towards the US defensive end. But then in the 79’ Lavelle broke through with an extremely nice angled shot, picking up a loose ball that wasn’t cleared off of a free kick.

It was to be the only goal of the night.

In the 82, the US made their last three subs, pulling Dunn, Horan, and Purce for Casey Kreuger (nee Short), Kristie Mewis, and Emily Sonnett. Mewis had some nice pickups in midfield, looking to play direct to Press and Morgan. And why not, when the two of them were fresh and full of running.

The game ended at 1-0. Still, there wasn’t necessarily sense that it was as close a game as the tight result might indicate. Yes, Canada had some heartstopping chances, but as Vlatko Andonovski emphasized after the game, these came from US mistakes and not necessarily from Canada tactics.

“If you look at the chances that they created, the chances that they had, was after we lost the ball in the middle. It wasn’t because they broke us down, we lost the ball in the middle and they went straight down towards our goal,” said Andonovski after the game.

“It’s a great learning opportunity,” he said. “Regardless of how we did, we’re going to go back and try to learn from this because I thought [Canada] were very disciplined, they were very aggressive in the middle of the field in the central channel, and they were able to create turnovers in regards to how we were trying to build. Obviously that’s a great learning opportunity for us to know that good teams are going to punish us or will create opportunity or make mistakes in that.”

Next up: USA vs Brazil on February 21 at 3 PM ET. The game will air live on FS1 and TUDN.