Working out what to make of the first game of the United States women’s national team’s annual spring tournament is tricky. It used to play in the Portuguese Algarve Cup every year, shaking off the winter rust on its way to the inevitable title game. But since last year, the Americans put on their own tournament, the much more competitive SheBelieves Cup.
On Wednesday, the Lady Yanks kicked off their 2017 tournament and title defense with a narrow 1-0 win over Olympic champions Germany outside of Philadelphia. It was a victory in which they perhaps deserved more, as Lynn Williams scored in the 56th minute for just her second USA goal in only her sixth appearance.
But, again, putting the performance in context requires both nuance and a pinch of salt.
Germany is in the middle of its competitive club season whereas the U.S. hadn’t played since mid-November, a month after the 2016 championship of the National Women’s Soccer League, which won’t start up again for another month and a half. Then again, the Americans had been in training camp for over a week, while the Germans only arrived stateside on Monday and were fighting jet lag.
Then there was the fact that Germany was playing under a new coach, Steffi Jones, and forging a revamped attack. On the other hand, Jill Ellis went with a 3-4-1-2 formation that the Americans aren’t accustomed to playing.
Which is all to say, you can really read as much or as little into this result as you want.
But the performance itself, separated from the scoreline, was good for the curtain-raiser to a non-Women’s World Cup and non-Olympic year. After all, this team is rebuilding after the 2015 World Cup trophy and the 2016 Olympic debacle in Brazil – where the U.S. posted its worst finish in any major tournament ever, a quarterfinals elimination to Sweden on penalties.
The U.S. tried to press high against their German opponents – ranked second in the world, behind only the Americans themselves. In the first half, they did so not entirely convincingly, letting Germany through too easily on too many occasions. In the second, however, the USA wore Jones’s side down with its pressure and possession.
Still, the game yielded very little by way of chances, for either team.
In the 10th minute, Crystal Dunn got off a blast from a blocked shot, but goalkeeper Almuth Schult parried it well at her near post.
Two minutes later, Alyssa Naeher – competing with Ashlyn Harris to succeed Hope Solo – made a sprawling save on a long shot by Sara Dabritz that swerved deceptively away from her. It was her only real intervention in the game, but she made it impressively.
Before halftime, Morgan Brian was chopped down outside the box. But on her second attempt – the first was impinged by a defender running out too early – Carli Lloyd drove her effort high.
Williams got the winner before the hour. The impressive Christen Press won the ball high on the right, cut inside and plunked her finish off the post. The equally imperious Tobin Heath had her shot blocked, but Williams tucked in the rebound.
In the 69th minute, the 23-year-old should have doubled the score. Williams savvily spun away from her marker and vaporized the defense as she raced away at goal. But she smashed her finish high when faced one-on-one with Schult. [/restrict]