Photo by Derik Hamilton/USA Today Sports
By CAITLIN MURRAY
The U.S. Women’s National Team ended their 2014 on a bitter note Sunday, drawing to Brazil to lose their final tournament of the year.
Brazil’s Marta could not match her splendid performance against the Americans a week ago, but the International Tournament of Brasilia hosts did dominate the USWNT and forced a scoreless stalemate, enough to hand Brazil the tournament title on tiebreaker.
The USWNT started in what looked like an experimental lineup — a 4-4-2 with Abby Wambach and Lauren Holiday as the front pair, with Kelley O’Hara, normally a defender, on the right midfield flank. The departure from coach Jill Ellis’ favored 4-3-3 seemed to be targeted at containing Marta, which it did, but the Americans struggled to control the midfield or maintain possession.
The USWNT’s best chance came in the 59th minute as a long Tobin Heath cross found Wambach on the far post. Wambach’s header had pace and goalkeeper Luciana beat, but sailed just wide. Brazil had a similar failed chance — Monica’s powerful, close-range header off a Marta corner kick was nodded just wide in the 38th minute.
Strikers Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Christen Press were all unavailable for Sunday’s match, leaving Wambach and Amy Rodriguez as the sole American forward options. Rodriguez, a late sub, scored in the closing minute of regulation but was ruled offside and the goal was disallowed.
The tide could have turned badly for the Americans in the 80th minute. Inside the 18-yard-box, Carli Lloyd apparently fouled Andressa, who did well to weave through the American defense with the ball at her feet, but no penalty was awarded.
For the Americans, the tournament was a tough end to their pre-World Cup year. They managed just four points in group play and dropped in the FIFA world rankings for the first time in nearly seven years.
The tournament itself likely doesn’t matter much to the Americans, but with roughly six months until Canada 2015, it provided World Cup-like conditions against strong opponents in a compact game schedule. If Sunday’s result means anything, it’s probably that the Americans have plenty of work to do before next summer.
The Americans drew what is widely being called “The Group of Death” for the Women’s World Cup and, if they don’t win that group, it’s likely Brazil will await them in the knockout round — a fact that looms after Brazil’s win and draw to the USWNT in the International Tournament of Brasilia.
Under the leadership of coach Tom Sermanni, who was fired in April, and later Ellis, the USWNT finishes 2014 with a 16-3-5 record.
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