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SheBelieves recap: USA defeats Brazil 2-0, still looks rough

It’s clear the team is still working things out and getting back to 100%.

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

Starting XI: Alyssa Naeher, Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Becky Sauerbrunn, Emily Sonnett, Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle, Christen Press, Alex Morgan, Lynn Williams

Subs: Casey Krueger, Jaelin Howell, Kelley O’Hara, Carli Lloyd, Catarina Macario, Tierna Davidson, Megan Rapinoe, Sophia Smith, Jane Campbell, Margaret Purce, Casey Murphy, Kristie Mewis

USA vs. Brazil’s first half couldn’t have been more different than USA vs. Canada. Where Canada stayed penned up mostly in their defensive half, Brazil made it a fast-flowing, open game with end-to-end action as the US pitted their 4-3-3 against Pia Sundhage’s flexible 4-4-2.

A big part of this was once again the lack of execution from the US, but the other part was Brazil having more personnel to take advantage of it, particularly with their speed, ballwinning, and distribution in midfield. If it wasn’t Marta, it was Debinha, and if it wasn’t Deibnha, it was Andressinha.

The US came out asking for the usual: a high press, this time also involving Ertz adding to their numbers high up the field and backstopping the action in the box. And it looked like a relatively bright start, as Ertz distributed wide to Horan, who found Press running through the halfspace. Press did a very typical Press thing, cutting inside from the left, putting the ball on her shooting foot, and hitting the goal with precision at an angle. She made the score 1-0 in the 11’.

But after that, it felt like a mad scramble for the rest of the half. Lynn Williams was having to constantly track all the way back on the right to help Emily Sonnett contain Brazil’s wide play there. Sonnett herself was a liability, making poor decisions in positioning and passing as well as her first touch going awry for a lot of giveaways.

After the first 20-25 minutes, the US slowed down on their attacking press when they were pushing high together, while also looking for quick direct balls forward for Alex Morgan. Morgan really did her best to hold up play and allow the forward line to dash past her, putting Lavelle and Press as often as she could. But Brazil was also constantly swarming her on these plays, putting Morgan in the role of foul sponge, which did at least incur one yellow card for Brazil for a tackle into her legs on a near-breakaway.

The US began relying a bit more on the fast break, leaving whoever was rotating into the highest position to make a run for it, whether that was Morgan in the 9 or Lavelle coming from behind her, or Press picking it up and trying to put in the cross.

Near the end of the half the US finally found some kind of rhythm, making great use of playing the ball between lines to work the whole team forward, ultimately creating a great chance for Horan to cross it in for Morgan’s head.

On the other end of the field, the defense had some highs and lows, although the half ended on some nice communication as Becky Saeurbrunn was forced to drop with Dahlkemper but saw the runner to the far post, which sent Julie Ertz rocketing in to cover what might have ended up being a sitter. The half ended at 1-0.

There were no personnel changes for the second half. The team continued to look disjointed, with some possibly tired legs adding into the mix. There were plenty of missed connections - in the 49’ Horan had a nice move to pick up the ball and start taking the space in front of her. She played it to Dunn, who cut in and had Lynn Williams clearly open on the wing, but Williams either didn’t read the play or simply couldn’t get to the ball that Dunn set up perfectly for her. One possible factor here is that Williams was doing a lot more running at this point, tracking back so much to keep that wide channel under control with Sonnett.

The team compressed back more, looking to Julie Ertz to start play out of deep. They looked much better every time they pressed along the left wide channel, with Dunn usually underlapping Christen Press and dominating the halfspace, where she would look for Morgan in the box. Lavelle had her share of off timing here too, sometimes arriving too soon and not being able to take advantage of second balls like she did against Canada.

Horan dug into the game here, doing her best to pick up the ball from her deeper position, where she was often forced to drop with Ertz to help protect that central space in front of goal.

In the 65’ the US made their first sub, bringing Sophia Smith for Lynn Williams. Smith brought more of a Press quality on the right side, cutting the ball in and trying to get it onto her left for an angled shot. Press herself was doing good work, trying to keep up her pressure and getting into crossing position. Brazil was working hard to stay together defensively, though, pulling back as a team in front of goal.

The US made another sub in the 71’ with Morgan and Press out, and Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe in. They didn’t bring the same speed, but it seemed to suit the whole team taking their foot off the press and looking to pick and choose more where to attack. They were also holding the ball and connecting a bit better, which helped clean up some of the early chaotic vibes of the game. Brazil also contributed to the slower pace as the US contracted under their pressure - part of the plan, as Vlatko Andonovski said in a post-game media call.

But even if the US wanted to the close the game down, that still meant dealing with the risk that Brazil would do to them what they usually do to others, namely using pressure to create turnovers in dangerous areas, which is exactly what happened several times.

The final sub was in the 82’ as Kristie Mewis came in for Rose Lavelle. Mewis tried to bring some energy with her runs centrally while Smith continued looking for an opening from the right side. But it was Rapinoe who doubled the lead as Horan crossed the ball and Rapinoe smartly dropped just enough off of her defender to get around her and one-time the ball into the net in the 88’. The game ended there at 2-0.

Afterwards in the postgame media call, Andonovski reminded press several times that most of his players are in their offseason and are still getting back into the swing of things. He also discussed the improvements he made from half to half.

“They were playing with two forwards, leaving two forwards in front on our two defenders and trying to isolate in in and put us in a two-v-two situation,” he said. “So the first thing that we did [in the second half] was Julie Ertz sat a little bit deeper in between those two defenders. So anytime we had a defender leave their position, JJ was there to cover. And then another thing that we did very well was alternate the runs on our fullbacks, so not at any point in time we we had both fullbacks going which helped us in the numbers when we lost the ball.”

“One thing that we know, if we give them a lot of space as a unit, that they’re going to expose it and I thought in the first half we didn’t do a good enough job in closing the space. And once again, we were caught on counter attack, but in second half after we adjusted the structure a little bit, I thought we did an incredible job in defending their transition. Now the only thing that is left is we just have to refine our touch and not make mistakes on the ball.”

Crystal Dunn also talked about her work on the left side of the pitch, this time getting to start with Christen Press, which created a higher-tempo game for a longer period, particularly with a more mobile opponent than Canada on that side. “I love my left side, you know, regardless of who’s out there with me,” she said. “I think I always, as a teammate, try to connect well with who I’m playing with. I try to give encouragement and just be there to support my forwards and Christen’s an incredible player. So for me, it was nice, just looking up and seeing that she’s there. I think she’s obviously a veteran player on this team. So, you know, I just follow her lead, and whatever she needs from me, I hope I can deliver. And I just let her do her thing.”

Dunn and Press were certainly two bright spots in this game. The right side of the pitch is a much bigger question, perhaps making it more likely we’ll get more time for either Midge Purce or Casey Krueger there.

Next up:

USA vs. Argentina
Wednesday, February 24
7 PM ET / 4 PM PT