The U.S. women’s national team claimed their sixth SheBelieves Cup trophy with a 2-1 win over Brazil on Wednesday.
Goals from Alex Morgan and Mallory Swanson put the Americans in control much of the second half, but Brazil pulled one back in the 90th minute from forward Ludmila.
The USWNT went undefeated in the SheBelieves Cup after beating Canada and Japan in their earlier games. But now, the next tournament on the calendar is the Women’s World Cup, which kicks off for the Americans on July 22 in New Zealand.
1. USWNT wins SheBelieves Cup and now the World Cup awaits
The U.S. women’s national team didn’t even need to win against Brazil to secure their sixth SheBelieves Cup trophy — a loss by one goal still would’ve been enough for the Americans to finish atop the standings, and the USWNT cleared that low bar and then some with a decisive win over Brazil on Wednesday.
Winning the SheBelieves Cup is nice, and the American players have earned a nice little bonus payment for it, but ultimately this tournament largely exists to prepare the USWNT for the World Cup. To that end, it might warrant a bit of worry that the Americans never quite put together a full 90-minute performance during the SheBelieves Cup, including against Brazil.
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As Crystal Dunn said before heading into the locker room for halftime: “It’s not our best half. We gave away some cheap balls, but it’s about resetting now.” The match result and the tournament are marked down as wins for the USWNT but, as Dunn suggested, the performances were not as confidence-inspiring.
That might be fine — winning ugly counts all the same as winning in style, and the 2023 Women’s World Cup is only about winning. The USWNT would surely take their wins at the SheBelieves Cup over their losses last fall to England, Spain and Germany. But the performances do leave seeds of doubt, and the fact remains that the World Cup is a different beast than the SheBelieves Cup.
2. Brazil’s counter-attack gives the USWNT a key test
Brazil certainly had their chances to score on the USWNT — almost all of them came from quick counter-attacks, and usually with Kerolin slicing her way through the midfield.
That led to some nervy moments where American center-backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Naomi Girma were caught alone trying to keep yellow shirts at bay as fellow defenders Crystal and Emily Fox were far flung upfield.
Mallory Swanson and Alex Morgan celebrates after Morgan scores the USWNT’s first goal against Brazil on Wednesday in the SheBelieves Cup. Omar Vega/Getty Images
This isn’t a new concern for the USWNT, and before the Americans won the World Cup 2019, it looked like the USWNT’s tendency to get caught over-committing in the attack was their chief vulnerability. No one made them pay in France at that World Cup, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a risk. And that Brazil left the U.S. scrambling in transition the way they did gave the U.S. yet another good stress test after Canada and Brazil presented different challenges in the first two games of the SheBelieves Cup.
To be clear, Dunn and Fox, the two American full-backs are doing exactly what U.S. coach Vlatko Andonvoski wants from them. The Americans get forward and they have a very attacking approach, even against top-ranked teams, but if Brazil and in particular Adriana had just finished their chances, this could be a different post-game conversation.
3. What’s the Plan B for the USWNT?
Andonovski has spoken openly about his desire to use this tournament to refine and ratchet up the intensity of the USWNT’s press and counter-press. Alex Morgan’s goal in the third minute of first-half stoppage time gave a glimpse of why the USWNT’s press is so important: off a Brazil turnover, the U.S. transitioned quickly, Mallory Swanson had a shot blocked, and Alex Morgan picked up the rebound with a well-taken finish that took advantage of Brazilian goalkeeper Lorena being caught off her line.
But in the moments the press hasn’t worked against teams like Brazil or, in the last match, Japan and the opponents have been able to settle into their shape and be patient, the Americans have run out of ideas quickly. When those spaces haven’t been pried open by catching a team in transition, the USWNT often just looks to play direct over the top in a brute force attempt, which sometimes can create something out of nothing but often is a good way to lose the ball.
The return of Rose Lavelle from a muscle strain injury could help. She found seams to move the ball into with varying success against Brazil, but often crumbled under pressure as Brazilian players converged on her. If she can be on her A-game in Australia/New Zealand this summer and the American midfield can click well enough to move the ball more quickly, that can help open things up for the USWNT. If not, in the final third, the USWNT could find they will need more at the World Cup as teams shut down those spaces.
Best and worst performers
Best: Alex Morgan, USWNT
No one on the USWNT can take a beating during a match like Alex Morgan can, and the USWNT relied on her to absorb much of the pressure from a physical Brazil side. Even before her well-taken goal from outside the box, she had would-be goal waved off that might’ve stood if a VAR review were possible.
Best: Mallory Swanson, USWNT
What more is there to say at this point? No one on the USWNT is finishing like she is these days. She has seven goals in her last six games now.
Best: Kerolin, Brazil
She gave the USWNT back line fits with her incisive dribbling and passing, and she was at the heart of all of Brazil’s promising attacks.
Worst: Debinha, Brazil
The bar is high for the Kansas City Current forward who has been one of the best players in the NWSL and for Brazil, but she couldn’t get into the game and was subbed off at halftime after touching the ball only 16 times.
Worst: Trinity Rodman, USWNT
Rodman, a bubble player trying to secure a spot at the World Cup, wasn’t consistent enough to wrestle away the spot that opened up with Sophia Smith missed this tournament roster for injury. She often wasn’t able to link up with her teammates and ended promising attacks by losing possession.
Worst: Adriana, Brazil
She had the chances, but she just couldn’t finish them. Ultimately, that may have been the difference in this match, Swanson and Morgan are reliable finishers, and Brazil just didn’t have that when they needed it.
Highlights and notable moments
Alex Morgan scored the USWNT’s opener at the end of first-half stoppage time.
😱 HOLY COW, @ALEXMORGAN13 pic.twitter.com/t9KkfIAegn
— U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (@USWNT) February 23, 2023
Mallory Swanson doubled the USWNT’s lead in the 62rd minute.
Mallory Swanson does it again!
📺: @NBCUniverso & @peacock for Spanish Coverage#SheBelievesCup | #USWNT pic.twitter.com/LpyXNFm51H
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 23, 2023
After the match: What the players and manager said
Post-match quotes will appear here when available. Check back shortly…
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
Alex Morgan scored her first goal from outside the box for the U.S. since June 19, 2014 vs. France.
Morgan has scored or assisted in each of her four appearances for the U.S. in 2023.
Mallory Swanson’s six-game scoring streak is the longest by a USWNT player since Christen Press scored in 6 straight from November 2019 to February 2020.
Swanson has scored half (7/14) of the goals by the USWNT in 2023. Rose Lavelle and Alex Morgan are the only other players with multiple goals (two each).
Ludmila scored the first goal that the U.S. has conceded in 5 games in 2023 — the U.S. had won its first 4 games by a combined 12-0, entering today
United States: The USWNT has one more international window left until the Women’s World Cup. The games in that window in April have not yet been announced by U.S. Soccer, but reports suggest it’ll be a pair of games against Ireland on April 8 in Austin, Texas and April 11 in St. Louis, Missouri. The USWNT’s World Cup starts on July 21, when the Americans face Vietnam in their tournament opener in New Zealand.
Brazil: The Brazil WNT will face England in the Women’s Finalissima, which pits the Copa América Femenina winner (Brazil) against the winners of the Women’s Euro (England). That match will take place at Wembley on April 6. Then Brazil’s World Cup begins on July 24.