As USWNT dominates Canada, Swanson all but ensures World Cup spot as others chase

The US women’s team opened the 2023 SheBelieves Cup with a solid 2-0 victory over reigning Olympic champions Canada. Winger Mallory Swanson scored twice in the first half, the first with a clean finish and the second from a play deep inside Canada’s defensive third.

The rest of the match was more equal, but the US was able to finish the game calmly. Combined with Brazil’s 1-0 victory over Japan earlier in the day, the win puts the US in first place in the SheBelieves Cup standings on goal difference. The SheBelieves Cup is the penultimate window of international play for the United States ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicking off in July in Australia and New Zealand.

Off the field, the match began with a show of solidarity between US and Canadian players on two fronts. Players from Canada got into a public dispute with their federation over financial resources and wages that US players showed support for, and both teams wore bracelets showing support for transgender students due to recent legislation in Florida, where the game was played.

Fast reaction

1. USWNT Starts Fast and Gives Canada Trouble

It’s tempting to think that the turmoil in the Canadian camp over the past few days – at first they didn’t play due to lack of support from the federation, and then suddenly began to play – played a role in how the first minutes played out. The purple warm-up t-shirts that read “Enough Is Enough” were pretty much about how Canada’s players feel about their federation at the moment.

But the fact remains: the USA was squeezed out of their northern neighbors from the first whistle, and Canada was not allowed to breathe until about the 20th minute of the match.

By then, the US was already leading 1-0 thanks to Swanson (née Pugh), and it could have been more. Swanson’s first attempt on goal came just 12 seconds into the match, although Team Canada’s goaltender Kaylen Sheridan was in a good position to stop her sharp-angled shot. Sheridan did the right thing by rescuing Ashley Sanchez a minute later, and the thought arose, however brief, that this could be one of those nights for the US in front of the gate.

But Swanson soon put those thoughts to rest in the seventh minute, kicking the ball from 16 yards after Alex Morgan, honored for her 200th pregame camp, touched a Trinity Rodman cross back into the top of the box.

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In the end, the US had to take off the gas pedal and they finally did so halfway through the first half, allowing the visitors the first time in a long time to have possession of the ball around the 22nd minute. But Canada still looked a bit shell-shocked and Swanson doubled the home team’s lead in the 34th minute. Morgan forced Vanessa Gilles to make a weak back pass and as Sheridan tried to secure a better passing angle, Swanson lashed out and shot into the wide open net.

The only time the US has come under pressure is when they have handled the ball carelessly in their own half. One such incident occurred in stoppage time of the first half when defender Alana Cook passed the ball to Canada’s Janine Becky, but US goaltender Alyssa Naher was there to block the ensuing shot with an accurate save.

The US can’t use high-pressing tactics in every game. Brazil and Japan, other opponents in this tournament, certainly know how to play with this approach. But Thursday’s match showed that if used at the right time, it can be very effective.

2. Swanson is doing everything he can to earn a guaranteed spot at the World Championships

Is Swanson in the best shape of his career? At least internationally, a strong case can be made. Of course, she had a good 2022, scoring 11 goals in 17 regular season games for the Chicago Red Stars and scoring seven more times for the USWNT, including once in the Concacaf W Championship semifinals against Costa Rica.

But now Swanson is taking his game to the next level.

Four goals in a row were scored in Thursday’s match, and now there are five goals in a year. Even better is that she is constantly in a good position to see the target clearly.

It all goes to show that Swanson can’t take anything for granted given the competition at the extremes, which includes Lynn Williams, Midge Perse, Megan Rapinoe and an absent Sophia Smith. Newcomer Trinity Rodman is also in the group, although she didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that were open to her this evening.

But for now, Swanson is preventing American manager Vlatko Andonovski from pulling her out of the roster.

3. Positioning and personnel answer to question no. 6

Given the continued absence of Julie Ertz, the defensive midfield position has been a hot topic of late in terms of who will fill it. Is it Andy Sullivan, Sam Coffey, Lindsey Horan or Taylor Cornick?

Sullivan took the No. 6 defensive midfield spot in this match, although Horan was often by her side to help provide another option in the build-up. Needless to say, Sullivan didn’t hurt her prospects of keeping her place in the roster. While Sullivan’s strength lies in her distribution, she made some tough tackles in the first half that helped Canada stay under pressure.

So, perhaps the problem was not so much in the frames, but in their positioning. Horan’s mobility and prowess mean an extra outlet, but also one that can provide some defensive help when needed. In her comments after the match, Horan preferred to play deeper with Sullivan.

The prospect of facing Japan and Brazil in the remaining matches will give the US a very different challenge. But it’s worth trying Sullivan and Horan’s partnership again ahead of this summer’s World Cup.

Best and Worst Performers

Best: Mallory Swanson, USWNT

Goals don’t come easier than Swanson’s second, but she scored her first with aplomb.

Best: Kaylen Sheridan, Canada

Sheridan kept the game from spinning out of control in the early moments, including a top-notch save from Ashley Sanchez’s shot in the third minute.

Best: Andy Sullivan, USWNT

There were a lot of questions about the No. 6 position, and while Horan went deep to help build the attack, Sullivan used some solid tackles and was also accurate with the ball.

Worst: Vanessa Gilles, Canada

Gilles had a nightmarish night in terms of its distribution. In addition to her gaffe on second Swanson, she nearly gave the US another goal late in the first half, only to make up for her mistake by blocking Morgan’s shot.

Worst: Christine Sinclair, Canada

Apart from one header at the end of the first half, Sinclair had little effect on the match and was substituted in the 57th minute.

Worst: Jessica Fleming, Canada

Did little to set the game early in the game and didn’t play much of a role in defending the ball.

Highlights and Notable Moments

Mallory Swanson said coach Vlatko Andonovski said he wanted the USWNT to start fast and that’s exactly what they did. Swanson scored just in the 7th minute with a beautiful finish.

However, Swanson was not finished yet.

Canadian defender Vanessa Gilles helped Swanson with a terrible back pass to goaltender Kaylen Sheridan, which Alex Morgan forced her to do. Swanson lashed out, but to her credit, she finished well.

– Live blog stream: what did you miss when it happened

After the match: what coaches and players said

USWNT Coach Vlatko Andonowski on Swanson: “I don’t know if I would say [two goals is] what I expect, but that’s what I would like from her in every game: two goals. These are not just two goals. Her flair for the game sometimes makes it so easy to play. Every time I watch her play, not only in games but also in training, I feel like I can go back and play that game. This is how easy it looks. She plays so well individually, but more and more we see Mel teaming up with the players around. [her].”

Andonowski on Sullivan’s performance: “I thought [Sullivan] was amazing. I think she was very good defensively and covered every little gap that came up. And part of the reason Canada couldn’t break through the middle was because of Andy and her ability to close.”

Andonowski on Horan’s performance: “Lindsey was Lindsey. The pressure doesn’t confuse her and she has the ability to do things with the ball that not many players are capable of. She’s just a world-class linebacker. do not neglect work without the ball. She shifts correctly and puts effort on the ball. So that’s what makes her world class.”

USWNT linebacker Lindsey Horan on the linebacker’s deeper role: “I like it. It gives me pleasure to take the ball and feel the game. I think that’s exactly what I did today, this is where I feel like I’m at my best, but others around me let me do it. So I think the team played great today and I was a little more involved than usual.”

Team Canada coach Bev Priestman on the performance of his players after a week of protests against the Canadian federation: “In many ways, you think your players are superhuman, and they are not. I felt that there was disappointment in front of me, of course, on the touchline, because we started straight. I think it’s the result of emotional and wasted training days, and you add all these things, they definitely play a role. But I think, not to make excuses, I think the US did very well. They have their third game of 2023. They had two games in New Zealand, they had a longer camp and you could see it.”

Key statistics (provided by Sportzshala Stats &…


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