USWNT Levels Argentina, Will Meet Brazil Again in Tournament Final


The USWNT needed something good to happen when they met with Argentina on Thursday evening’s group match of the International Tournament of Brasilia. After their first two matches resulted in a 0-1-1 record (including a loss Sunday off of a Marta hat trick), the difficulties facing this highly experienced squad seemed more clear than ever.

Before the game began, the USWNT knew that the goal was not just to win, but to score at least seven times to overcome the goal differential created by China’s defeat of Argentina. For perspective, that’s one more goal than the team had scored in any match since the first friendly against Mexico back in September.

Alyssa Naeher (Boston Breakers) started in place of Hope Solo (Seattle Reign) for her first cap, and Lori Chalupny (Chicago Red Stars) got her second start of the tournament at left back. Longtime captain Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC) also sat out, leaving the defensive duo of Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City) and Whitney Engen (Western New York Flash) to hold things down at center-back.

It was a treat to watch Christen Press notch four goals. #23 is an obviously talented player, but it’s easy to forget how brilliant she can be when she’s struggling to develop consistent strike chemistry with Thursday’s captain Abby Wambach (Western New York Flash). Press might be the sort of forward who doesn’t need a companion. She showcased her excellence at putting herself in position to take advantage of the chances that come her way, no matter their point of origin.

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All the night’s goals were put in by Press or Carli Lloyd. The first successful shot of the match was a bit wild, a ricocheted ball into the back of the net off Press’ left-footed toe-poke assisted by a deflected shot from Morgan Brian. That score, coming in the match’s seventh minute, felt like it represented a lot of the US play this year: messy, reluctant, nearly unable, but in the end, swift and severe.

Abby Wambach labored through this game. That’s all I want to say about it. Except that she’s 34, and almost certainly does not need to start every night, or maybe any night. She did have an attractive assist for Press’ well-struck second goal, and enabled another assist from Chalupny to Lloyd by allowing herself to get nutmegged. But a number of scoring opportunities seemed to just pass her by, and it looked like the result of genuine exhaustion.

Lloyd had an MVP-caliber game, which is starting to feel typical for her. On top of scoring a hat trick, not even a highly pixellated stream could diminish the evident work she put in all over the pitch. Playing center-mid, Lloyd found herself back helping to repair a defensive miscue on the left, and serving balls in from the right side of Argentina’s box. Covering as much ground as Lloyd with as much determination were the remainder of the starting midfield, Lauren Holiday and Brian, which should come as no surprise from the 2014 US Female and Young Female Athletes of the Year, respectively. The trio did plenty of admirable clean-up from box to box, and Brian closed out the game with an assist to both of the night’s scorers.

Bizarre moments included a surprising center-back attack from Sauerbrunn, as well as an aggressive red card pulled on Sydney Leroux less than ten minutes after she came on for Wambach. At some point the formation switched from the much-maligned 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2. The Heather O’Reilly super-sub experiment, while peculiar in its own right, looked effective; HAO repeatedly made deep, purposeful runs, tallying an assist to Lloyd and achieving at least two second-half corners.

Though the US had the exact performance they required to end up in the final on Sunday afternoon, the team still needed Brazil to beat China. The Chinese looked rather solid against the US when they held the Americans to a single goal in the tournament opener last Wednesday, as they did in their 6-0 game against Argentina. But Brazil looked downright eager to face the Americans again on their home soil, delivering a chippy 4-1 win over China and securing their spot in Sunday evening’s grudge match.

The USWNT has performed pretty inconsistently for at least the past year. Updated FIFA rankings were released early Friday morning, and it should come as no surprise that Germany has leapfrogged the US, ending a six-year American run as the top-ranked team in the world. I hate the idea that a group of professional athletes needed a wake-up call, but let’s hope that this will suffice, a piercing irritation that will carry them through to next July and beyond.

The US meets up again with Brazil in the first-place match on Sunday at 4pm EST; functional streams can be usually found on Twitter (check the hashtag #USWNT).