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USWNT wins first W Gold Cup, beats Brazil 1-0

 

By Meg Linehan, Steph Yang, Jeff Rueter, Tamerra Griffin

The United States won its first CONCACAF W Gold Cup trophy, beating Brazil 1-0 on Sunday night in San Diego. USWNT captain Lindsey Horan scored the winning goal just before halftime.

After a handy defeat to regional rival Mexico in the tournament’s group stage, the USWNT capped its Gold Cup performance with three atrocities in the knockout stages: first against Colombia in the quarter-finals, then a wild semi-final against Canada in the rain that required penalties to resolve and ultimately Brazil in the final.

Ultimately, the Gold Cup provided strong preparation for the USWNT ahead of this summer’s Olympics, not only because it could recreate the rhythm of a tournament, but also because of the quality of the games.

After the win over Canada, interim head coach Twila Kilgore praised her team’s mentality, saying,

USWNT’s winning team goal

As first-half stoppage time approached, it took something special to break what had become a cagey encounter. Facing her short options, midfielder Sam Coffey played a huge long ball towards the right wing, getting past the last two Brazilian defensive lines and allowing Trinity Rodman to run the ball into space

Just like Wednesday, the Snapdragon Stadium field betrayed Rodman. Instead of being eaten by a cynical puddle, her dribble bounced on the ground, forcing her to determine and then reassess her progress before the end line. She found Emily Fox with a recirculation from close range, and the Arsenal full-back sent a cross to the far post, where Horan was keen to add another emphatic headed goal to her growing collection of dunks.

“It was such a great team goal,” Coffey said after the game. “I think we like goals that come from the mentality that plays for us: winning loose balls, winning 50/50s, those first and second (balls). I couldn’t have drawn it better myself.”

 

Meanwhile, Horan continues to add to the list of reasons why she is so important to the USWNT this cycle. There was a lot of ceremony when she inherited the 10 shirt and became the de facto penalty taker. Perhaps just as meaningful is her new role as a reliable aerial threat in the box for both set pieces and run-of-play crosses – something that made Julie Ertz supernova during the 2019 World Cup. The goal capped a strong tournament for the captain the United States, with the final forcing her to play multiple midfield roles at different stages.

It was a bit strange not to see forward Jaedyn Shaw or defender Jenna Nighswonger start against Brazil after they both had such good tournaments, with Shaw ultimately taking the tournament’s best player honors. Shaw eventually entered the final game for Coffey in the 71st minute, but as number 10. However, that should be an additional argument for Shaw as a starter, given her versatility on the pitch. If she is also going to be played as a midfielder, she will need more time with regular starter Horan

It seemed that the United States was more willing to absorb the heavy Brazilian pressure in the first half, which then allowed them to produce an energetic second half. But that has never really been the American style, to wait for the time in that way. Still, it’s a valid strategy this late in the tournament, and especially after that energy-sapping match against Canada, and we saw it pay off in the first half. Brazil were largely limited to long shots outside the box and the US seized their opportunity and made the most of it on Horan’s goal.

At the same time, it’s become pretty clear that Nighswonger and Shaw are starters. Especially Nighswonger, given the amount of left-backs currently available. Crystal Dunn has lost some speed and her best position is still operating out of midfield anyway, so it would be great to see her shift centrally and for Nighswonger to really own the role and continue to build a relationship with whoever comes along. strengthens the left center back position – probably Tierna Davidson at this point – and with Shaw as left winger. That will be one of the most important relationships for this team going forward and despite the strain, it is important to get those relationships developed as much as possible as quickly as possible if they are aiming for Olympic succes

More than a trophy

The trophy is obviously the highlight of the tournament, but fans should be encouraged by the way this group came through the Gold Cup knockouts. Last summer, the USWNT were unable to recover from a disappointing group stage, coming to life late in the final round of 16. After a stunning 2-0 defeat in this tournament’s group final against Mexico, a team with less determination had the same way to suffer.

Instead, the USWNT controlled the match against Colombia from the opening whistle and never relinquished control. They came through under terrible circumstances against eternal rival Canada. And on Sunday they held their own against a reluctant Brazil, beating them at their own game. Navigating that range of approaches is extremely impressive.

Additional observations

  • Morgan’s physicality in this match was limited in the first half before it got her into big trouble in the second half. Horan’s go-ahead goal probably wouldn’t have happened without Morgan also making that same run and positioning her body behind a defender for a screen. After the win, Horan spoke about Morgan’s contribution to the goal: “I shouted at Alex to leave because I knew I was on goal and so… I give her a second assist for that.”
  • While goalie Alyssa Naeher re-upped her reputation as the United States’ most ice-cold goalie, it was still a shame not to see more goaltending rotation in a tournament that both Kilgore and the players have said is important for the way it simulates Olympic conditions and against highly competitive opponents.
  • In the meantime, the back line must be set. Fox, Davidson, Naomi Girma and Nighswonger formed a convincing defensive unit, which is nice to see. Make at least one line feel somewhat solid without having to push the “let’s see” phase through SheBelieves or even friendlies in June.

(Top photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

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