The United States are champions of the Algarve Cup. That's all well and good, but they got to the final in large part because they were in a terrible group. What really mattered is that final, where the Americans beat France, 2-0, for their best win in quite some time.
The U.S. got goals from Julie Johnston and Christen Press to topple France, who completely outplayed the Americans in a friendly just last month.
Things started on a set piece in the 7th minute, which Johnston got to and nodded home for the opening tally. The Americans then proceeded to pressure the French high, making it tough for them to initiate their attack from the back and disrupting their rhythm. The French still controlled the ball for spells and put the U.S. under fire, but it wasn't the complete domination we saw a year ago.
When France did get the ball forward and unlock the U.S. defense, Hope Solo was there to deny them. She looked outstanding in turning away the French, preserving that one goal lead.
In the 41st minute, the U.S. then added to their advantage and it was all because of Press. Literally, all her.
Press collected the ball on a goal kick at midfield and ran through the entire France defense. She left defender after defender in her dust, got to the top of the box and coolly slid the ball into the side netting for a tremendous goal that had the Americans 2-0 up.
The second half wasn't entirely different. France still had their chances and their looks, while the U.S. struggled to build from the back and often relied on superior speed to get any sort of attack going. Things got dicey late when Meghan Klingneberg was whistled for a foul in the box, but Solo made a strong save to deny the spot kick and the Americans walked off with a 2-0 win.
The U.S. will be happy to walk away winners. After the way France beat them last month and with the team's struggled over the last year, they desperately needed a good result against a good team. They got a very good performance from Johnston, who is making a case to be a starter come the summer, while Solos and Press were excellent.
That said, it wasn't as if the Americans played great. They struggled for stretches, their midfield couldn't control tempo and their chances came because of their speed. It wasn't a sign of team growth of cultured play. And it was also against a France team that did not have Liuisa Necib or Elodie Thomis, who are central to the French attack, while captain Wendie Renard and Laura Georges' absences significantly weakened the defense.
This is a result they can be proud of, it's probably not one they can count on getting repeatedly in June unless they play better, and they're going to need four of five of these at the World Cup.