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USWNT lifts fifth-straight SheBelieves Cup with shoutout win over Canada

Last time the USWNT faced Canada just over a month ago in the inaugural W Gold Cup Semifinal, the two teams fought through a monsoon at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego with the Americans emerging victorious in a penalty shootout after a 2-2 draw in regulation.

This time, the field was playable, but the full-time result was no different as the two sides headed to penalties level at two goals apiece. As if written in the stars, Alyssa Naeher replicated her heroic W Gold Cup performance to win the United States its fifth-consecutive SheBelieves title.

Contrary to the tournament opener, the USWNT began on the front foot in Columbus with a slower start to the match. Rather than growing into the game as they did against Japan, however, Canada gained a foothold as the opening half progressed. The Americans’ 63% possession in the first stanza was heavily stat-padded by passes between the central defenders while Canada did a stellar job of denying entry into midfield before going direct whenever they won the ball.

Canada’s goal came from a direct ball as such which Naeher curiously came out to the edge of her box to challenge. Failing to win the ball, she left her net open for Canada to pass the ball into the back of. Despite playing the majority of the half in a defensive structure, Canada went into halftime with more shots, more shots on target, and a 1-0 lead.

Part of the issue for the USWNT was a lack of ball progression through midfield, limiting creativity further up the pitch. Interim head coach Twila Kilgore adjusting to a starting double pivot of Sam Coffey and Emily Sonnett was likely to blame. Luckily Kilgore recognized her mistake, substituting Coffey at halftime for Mallory Swanson, returning Lindsey Horan to the double pivot alongside Sonnett and Shaw into the #10 position that she played against Japan. Immediately, the game changed.

Within minutes of the second-half kickoff, Shaw assisted the equalizer. Of course, Sophia Smith deserves most of the credit for her perfectly placed finish from the top of the box.

“Just a class finish from Soph [Smith] and I am just really proud of her,” praised Kilgore. “She can play multiple positions. She can score a variety of different goals and she’s doing great.”

As the Americans settled into their more comfortable positions, the benefits of Kilgore’s halftime change became clear as day. Horan’s natural tendency to push forward coupled with her keen eye for a line-breaking pass spurred the USWNT onto a 2-1 lead in the 68th minute.

“The first goal is just class. Sometimes individuals do special things but also there’s a big team concept there. We played a ball over the top, won a few throw-ins, and pinned them back,” Kilgore pointed out. “The second goal was an amazing team goal.”

The second goal began when Horan picked up the ball in a deep-lying position, immediately breaking the lines to Jaedyn Shaw who had found space in the center circle. Connecting play, the 19-year-old broke the next line with a through ball towards Trinity Rodman who unselfishly slid an assist into the path of Smith for her brace, securing SheBelieves Cup MVP in the process. Directly up the gut of Canada, the USWNT tore their northern neighbors apart with ease due to Horan dropping deeper to break the lines and Shaw searching for gaps in her favorite #10 position.

“I thought once we sorted out right after halftime where our pocket players were in making sure that we consistently had players in the pocket the game changed for us. And that just comes down to basically creating our shape and getting into our shape as quickly as possible and then being dynamic in it.

Unfortunately for the United States, as they showed in the recent W Gold Cup, Canada is a difficult team to put away. Aided by a soft penalty call on Crystal Dunn without VAR to intervene, Adriana Leon matched Smith with a brace of her own to equalize in the 85th minute.

As opposed to the W Gold Cup, however, the SheBelieves Cup does not employ extra time due to its friendly nature. So instead of heading to penalties after 120 minutes as these sides did just over a month ago in the W Gold Cup Semifinal, the SheBelieves Cup Final went straight to penalties at the conclusion of full-time.

In San Diego, Naeher saved three penalties, scored her own, and secured the victory for the United States within four shootout rounds. In Columbus, saving three penalties, scoring her own, and securing the victory for the United States took her as many as seven rounds, but of course, she came up with the goods once again. Look up the definition of hero in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Alyssa Naeher.

For the very last time under the interim leadership of Twila Kilgore (who finishes with a 10-1-3 record as interim head coach), the USWNT put their grit and resilience on display, coming back from a first-half deficit to lift their 7th SheBelieves title in the tournament’s nine editions.

Up next; the Emma Hayes era begins.

Comments

  1. good write up Justin, thank you

    Shout Out to Twila…great job. Think of where the team was when she took over, the players, and where it is now and who has been integrated into the mix. Shaw a great example, Coffey another, more. Tremendous job as Interim Head Coach and tactically she has shown her ability with the halftime adjustments, etc.

    Standing Ovation

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  2. I hadn’t read the article above before writing the comment above. So yeah, I agree with most of that except I don’t think Horan spots line breaking passes or executes them with the consistency she needs to.

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    • actually, from the 6, I think she’s good at it. Even when Sullivan was playing the 6, Horan would often drop to receive and initiate the build out. The second goal last night came off her line breaking pass from the deep hold.

      Also, I would say the off the ball movement and positioning needs more urgency sometimes in the hold up and build out, and Swanson is excellent at it and her as that extra option allows more space for everyone to play, like Shaw, and like what happened last night. Swanson is the dynamic player like no other on the roster, and it showed immediately last night when she came on seemed to me

      at halftime I thought Swanson was going to come on for Sonnett, or maybe even Horan, but not Coffey who played very well in that 1st half. but Twila clearly got it right

      only 16 field players for the Olympics…super tight competition. Emma walking right into it. will be interesting to see what she does!

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  3. This team has a Lindsay Horan problem. She seems to be important to have on the field but is not technical enough or defensive enough to be the six or the ten. She’s been tried as the Ertz replacement and failed. The stark difference in the midfield with Shaw as the creative force from Horan attempting to do that job was highlighted in these two games in the first half of this game when Horan was supposed to be the creator. I guess she has to be the McKennie to Shaw’s Reyna -Shaw is that good (or maybe Lavelle or Macario as the ten). In the 3 midfield currently favored that would put Horan paired with Coffey as a double pivot. Presumably her defensive liabilities (mostly speed) could be covered in a double pivot but I still question her vision and speed of play in connecting and breaking the lines. She seems to be a beat slow in recognizing the pass and then her accuracy is a notch below where it needs to be to be valuable in linking with the front line. When you watch Spain, England, France – it’s this vision and speed in delivering the needed ball that is setting them apart from the US. Horan would have a hard time making those midfields. So should she be there at all?

    It will be interesting to see how Hayes integrates all these talents. When healthy, Lavelle, Macario and Shaw need to be playing. How will that affects Horan, Swanson, Smith, Rodman and Morgan? I think the last two and maybe the first will need to make way.

    All this is to say I think Horan is not suited for where the top level women’s game has progressed. Her being a sharpied starter shows the USWNT hasn’t figured out why the European teams have caught and even surpassed them. Until that changes the USWNT will eek out wins against teams like Canada despite the talent to move into this new era where technical ability is now more important than pure athleticism. The attack is loaded with technical players who just need a midfield to come along with them. The approach must change. Horan, to me, is a symbol of the change needed.

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    • Just curious what you see as Lavelle’s strengths to keep her in the top tier? I mean she hustles and is scrappy, but not particularly creative or technical. She gives the ball away a lot and for all her scrappiness she is prone to getting muscled aside when defending. Horan didn’t have a great game last night but I’m not sure I would go as far as identifying her as the problem just yet. What I saw was a coach not just tinkering with a line up but with player positions in a way that impacted understandings between players. Shaw is not as well-suited to wing play as she is to playing in the center, for instance.

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    • Master of the Obvious, you have some good points but Horan is one of the most skilled players with the ball on the roster. She rarely gets taken off the ball, has great vision, connects really well in the offensive third, plays tight passes, great shot with both feet, great 50/50 ball winner,etc. Horan also has some grit and cam be an enforcer. Horan plays on one of the best teams in Europe by the way.
      I think the one part subtracting from the sum of the parts is Sonnett! She does not connect with teammates, doesn’t make line braking passes, does not dribble into space or out of trouble, and always plays the safe ball unless under pressure she will play dangerous passes. She is a liability at the end of games because she will turn the ball over. Sonnett does not fit in the midfield!
      I think Albert looks more the part then Horan or Sonnett in the double pivot. She is new to the player pool but she is rangy, agile, good speed, skilled with the ball, and seems to initiate contact to win the ball. However, we have not seen much of her but looks the part.
      The forwards are stacked and Swanson is the one to really make it work. She just drives the ball at various speeds and will pick her spots so well. Morgan is a great leader and has raised expectations but not a great fit with the speed she is surrounded with. Even Smith is a better hold up player and plays with better body balance. Rodman seems to just keep getting better with her vision. I think Smith in the middle with Swanson and Rodman on either side is a force.
      The ten spot is a tough one. Shaw really looks the part and her workrate on D impresses me. Plus, she is a bigger stronger body which is needed against the top teams. However, Horan is productive and when the team needs to make a play she steps up
      Very excited to see this team evolve especially with all the young players coming up!

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