The United States Women’s National Team has reached the end of the SheBelieves Cup, having beaten Canada and Japan in the previous rounds. The tournament has provided the opportunity to get off on the correct foot in 2023, building necessary momentum in advance of the World Cup. The final opponent on the schedule is Brazil, the top team in CONMEBOL and led by a familiar manager. Toyota Stadium – a 19,096-seat venue in Frisco, Texas – is set to host the closer.
This is the 41st all-time meeting between the two nations, with the USWNT holding a 31-4-5 historic advantage. Brazil is currently ranked ninth in the world by FIFA. The Seleção (The National Squad) enjoyed a torrid run of form during the second half of 2022, winning all but one of the final 12 matches. This almost-perfect streak included a dominant unbeaten and unscored-upon campaign at the 2022 Copa América Femenina, securing World Cup qualification. The 2023 SheBelieves Cup run includes a 1-0 victory over Japan and a 2-0 defeat to Canada.
Brazil is managed by none other than Pia Sundhage, who led the USWNT to two consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012. Appointed in July of 2019 following a tenure in her native Sweden, the federation extended contract through the 2024 Paris Games, expressing excitement over her work. The 63-year-old is looking to build off of the Copa América Femenina success and return the program to glory of the aughts.
Sundhage named a 23-player roster for the SheBelieves Cup. Seven of the call-ups compete in the domestic Campeonato Brasileiro de Futebol Feminino, while the National Women’s Soccer League is home to a further seven talents. The average age of the squad is a little over 26 years old, despite missing notable veterans such as Leticia Santos, Duda Francelino, Luana, and Antônia.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Letícia Izidoro (Corinthians), Lorena (Grêmio), Luciana (Ferroviária)
DEFENDERS (8): Bruninha (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Kathellen (Real Madrid), Lauren (Madrid CFF), Rafaelle (Arsenal), Tainara (Bayern Munich), Tamires (Corinthians), Tarciane (Corinthians), Yasmim (Corinthians)
FORWARDS (6): Bia Zaneratto (Palmeiras), Debinha (Kansas City Current), Gabi Nunes (Madrid CFF), Geyse (Barcelona), Ludmila (Atlético Madrid), Nycole Raysla (Benfica)
Sundhage deploys a 4-4-2/4-2-4 formation, although she has utilized a single-striker setup in the past. Her tactical overhaul involves a more “cohesive” attacking strategy that progressively advances the ball on the ground and puts a heavy responsibility on the central midfielder pairing to direct possession to the high attacking line. Torcedores noted that while the squad exhibits organization, there are, at times, issues with “hustle and mistakes in decision-making.” Goal’s Amanda Viana echoed this critique, noting that “difficult extending intensity, organization and concentration for 90 minutes” has resulted in dropping results, noting a tendency to play down to opponents’ levels.
Leonardo Mirando of Globo Esporte produced a comprehensive breakdown of the changes Sundhage has brought to the program. “The choice of 4-4-2 is because Pia believes that the team should play as compact as possible, with close lines,” he wrote. “The defense must be close to the middle at all times, either from the front or from the side. Thus, eight players form a kind of defensive box protecting [the goalkeeper]. Compaction not only makes the defense cover space more efficiently. It also makes the game more collective and brings players together to facilitate defensive work.”
The relatively new number one is Lorena, a 25-year-old who competes with Grêmio and was named to the 2022 Brasileiro Team of the Year. She registered a shutout in the final of last summer’s Copa América Femenina. Standing at 6’, she is an imposing presence when coming out to meet crosses, while also possessing the agility to shift into acrobatic saves. Playing with the ball at her feet is also an asset, coming out 40 yards to get involved in the build-up or cut off an opponent’s pass.
Arsenal’s Rafaelle Souza is an aggressive tackler who likes to engage with attackers and throws herself into danger. The Bahian is dangerous on set pieces and claims most of the headers in her area. She is likely to partner with Kathellen of Real Madrid, who played her collegiate ball in the United States. The 5’11” centre-back uses her length to steer the ball away, while also being a fairly confident presence during the build-up. For another option, Tainara has also been a consistent member of the back line, a bullying defender who competes with Bayern Munich. The 23-year-old reads the game well and anticipates when to step into a passing lane or in front of an opponent.
At left back is Tamires, an experienced 35-year-old at Corinthians who covers the entire length of the field. She is dangerous in the final third and often maintains a more advanced position that the strikers, looking to cut inside to receive the ball. On the other side of the formation could be the young standout, NJ/NY Gotham’s FC’s Bruninha, likely to receive a run due to Antônia’s absence. Her incisive passing and crossing are weapons, splitting opposing defenders from a distance and generating opportunities.
Formerly an attacker, Ary Borges of Palmeiras has assumed the defensive midfielder position, operating as a successful challenger and dribbler. She is able to quickly pick up a beat on the ball, putting herself in the right area to intercept passes or win headers. The other central spot is occupied by North Carolina Courage’s Kerolin, another recent convert to a deeper role in the formation. The 23-year-old is an excellent passer and makes the right decisions in transition, at times stalling in anticipation of different angles opening.
Versatile attacker Adriana recently signed a three-year deal with Orlando Pride, being described as “an exciting, dynamic, and entertaining player with an eye for goal” while “possessing great technical ability and an incredible work rate.” Her speed and one-on-one dribbling are difficult to contain, breaking open defenses on the counter-attack. Patrolling the other wing is Geyse Ferreira, a tenacious all-around talent with Barcelona. She can do everything expected at all phases of the position, from initial shuttling into the final third all the way through to rising above the crowd to head home crosses.
Bia “Beatriz” Zaneratto is one of the most experienced members of the squad, having competed at three Women’s World Cup tournaments. The Palmeiras forward has a devastating shot from distance, being able to generate incredible power with ease. She is equally comfortable playing with her back to goal and running behind the defense, highly favoring movements to the left side. Her distribution is also an asset, looking to lay the ball off to teammates after drawing opponents. Depending on the formation, the front-line could also feature Debinha, a 31-year-old attacker who recently joined the Kansas City Current. Her electric dribbling scythes through defenders, which is complemented by tremendous leaping ability to serve as a target on crosses.
There is also the question of which role, if any, will be played by Marta. The six-time FIFA World Player of the Year/Best FIFA Women’s Player endured a difficult 2022, suffering a cruciate ligament rupture while playing with the Orlando Pride. When healthy, she is a clear priority for opposing defenses, displaying a terrifying combination of technique and physical prowess. Whether scoring goals or setting up teammates, one of the sport’s greatest of all-time has a few remaining years of magic to leave on the field.
While the USWNT has looked like an improved side during the tournament, this match could be more of a struggle. Dynamic teams punch far above their weight, almost preferring to compete against opponents that are perceived to be better. Expect Brazil to generate several opportunities and perhaps come away with three points in the third round of the SheBelieves Cup.
The match is scheduled for Wednesday, February 22nd at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include TNT, HBO Max, Universo, Peacock, and FUBO TV (free trial).