Watch United States of America the women’s national team is an exercise similar to finding flaws in the Sistine Chapel. Most days, there are no imperfections to be found. But on the rare occasions when a flaw is found in the American game, there is discussion to be had about whether it is simple nitpicking or whether the alarm bell should really ring.
So what makes Sunday 2-0 win above Brazil, who only won the SheBelieves Cup?
In many ways, the US is doing what it usually does. That took up most of the game, and was finally broken through with goals by Christen Press and substitute Megan Rapinoe. The defenses are bent, but still solid. The results are less about perfection and more about efficiency, especially in both penalty areas.
The win was the 15th consecutive win under manager Vlatko Andonovski, who replaced Jill Ellis following the US team’s second consecutive World Cup win in 2019. And it cannot be ignored that the US won against the currently occupying Brazilian side. ranks eighth in the latest FIFA rankings.
Looking beyond those metrics, Brazil certainly has enough talent to threaten the US. There’s been Marta’s longtime attacking lynchpin, even as she has played in a wider role for manager Pia Sundhage. Forwards Debinha and Ludmila were skilled and mobile enough to threaten any team in the world, and do so today. Add in the fact that many US players are still in pre-season mode, and there is every reason to think that Americans are in solid form as this summer Olympics are increasingly in focus.
“It’s funny because I think every time I’m in this team, wearing this jersey, I feel like everyone expects us to never take a shot at our goal, or that no team has ever created a chance,” said defender Crystal Dunn. “And I can sit here and say I think we played a great game. I think Brazil is a talented group of players.”
But part of the reason why US women have dominated for so long is precisely because the team is held to high standards, although sometimes expectations border on ridiculous. And there are enough flaws in Sunday’s match to think that there are some issues to watch out for as departure for Tokyo draws near.
The US put on a smoother performance against Brazil than at the tournament opener against Canada. That’s partly because Brazil is bolder in attacking, leading to a more open affair.
But in both games, the US conceded several chances wide open in a transition that didn’t convert. In some situations, the US has helped itself with some clever closing tackles, such as when Dunn slid in the 13th minute to block Ludmila’s shot, or when Julie Ertz’s recovery went right before halftime to spoil the Brazilian counter-attack. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher also contributed with Ludmila’s first-half save.
But on another occasion it was a poor finish by an opponent that kept the US goal from being scored. Debinha will still think about the opportunities she wasted in the 82nd minute. It is something the US cannot continue to rely on to move forward.
Right-back Emily Sonnet’s play is also a concern, as she has been second best in a number of duels, although Andonovski defended the player as she spent most of the day against Marta.
“Several times I thought he could do a better job,” he said. “But overall he played against one of the best players in the world right now, and he was able to move up front, denying some of the passes that came in. He could get the ball a few times so it’s a good overall performance.
To Andonovski’s credit, the transition chances seen in the first half remained largely under control after halftime thanks to some tactical adjustments. This included dropping Ertz a little deeper to limit space for Debinha and Ludmila, as well as providing added protection for center-backs Abby Dahlkemper and Becky Sauerbrunn. The US is also doing a better job of pressing the ball in midfield and slowing down Brazil’s efforts to play in transition.
“We know that if we give them a lot of space as a unit they will expose it, and I think in the first half, we didn’t do a pretty good job closing down the space,” said Andonovski. “After we adjusted the structure a little bit, I think we did a wonderful job maintaining their transition.”
However it is worth mentioning that in the previous match against Canada some transition opportunities were also conceded. There’s certainly no time to panic when it comes to US defense, but there are reasons to be wary of how teams appear to be exploiting weaknesses.
There seems to be a bit more patience attached to the team’s attack, with Lindsay Horan’s two assists in the spotlight, along with Rapinoe’s “Rock the Baby” celebration, an ode to team-mates Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris adopting a baby last week. Horan’s appearance is a reminder that Andonovski has options behind injured Sam Mewis. The press shows their quality too with well-taken goals.
The return of Alex Morgan is also a plus, considering it is his first start in the national team since giving birth last year. He did 71 minutes of active shifts.
All that said, the US team needs to be tested in this tournament, and that’s what for Andonovski has been the main point of this game so far.
“We want to play our best,” he said. “We want to play against a different type of opponent, an opponent who will present a different challenge, for a reason. So we can go back into the room now, go back to the office and learn, why they can get 10 shots on goal? What can we do? do differently? And we hope we can be better than him. “
Regarding perfection, the US hopes it happens later this summer.