The United States Women’s National Team is living on the edge in the SheBelieves Cup, but thanks to some tremendous goalkeeping from Hope Solo and timely scoring from their forwards, they just keep winning.
Hope made three saves in Sunday’s matchup with France, including two spectacular stops in the early minutes of the contest, and kept the sheet clean once again, setting the stage for Alex Morgan to put the French away in dramatic fashion. Morgan broke a scoreless tie with a goal in stoppage time to cinch up another 1-0 victory for the USWNT.
“When you can have the win and a great performance, I think it’s a good feeling. I think the players left there with a good feeling,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “Obviously ecstatic with the world-class goal at the end there. But as I said to the players, it’s also three points in this tournament. This is our first time at this tournament, and we’d obviously love to win it. And one more game to go.”
That last game pits the USWNT against Germany in Boca Raton, Florida on Wednesday, the final match of the SheBelieves Cup. Both teams are unbeaten thus far in the tournament.
But first, the second of three stops on the SheBelieves Cup southeastern U.S. swing took the USWNT to Music City, for a matchup with France, and like Thursday’s game in Tampa against England, it was a defensive battle. No. 1’s stellar play in net set the tone on Sunday, as she logged a pair of big saves early in the game to keep the contest scoreless.
The first of those came in the 14th minute, when French forward Louisa Necib ripped a free kick from 35 yards out that curled towards the left side of Hope’s net on target in an attempt to scorer. No. 1 stood tall and used her left hand to push the ball over her net, forcing a corner kick. Following the ensuing play-in by France, the U.S. defense initially cleared the ball, but the French Women’s National Team stayed on the attack and played it right back into the box.
As the ball bounded toward the box, American midfielder Carli Lloyd attempted to clear it with her left foot, however the ball came off of her foot awkwardly and headed toward Hope’s net, sending No. 1 sprawling to her right as the ball hit the post. The ball then bounced perfectly into the middle of the six-yard box where French striker Marie Laure-Delie was waiting. She put a shot on net, but Hope somehow recovered after diving to her right from the initial danger and lunged to the left just in time to get in front of the shot and deny Delie at point-blank range.
“That was a world-class (save),” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “The speed and quickness of her reaction to get up from the initial (shot) and to get across there was outstanding.”
The close call was the first in quite a while for the USWNT, which is usually so sound on the backend in front of Hope. But No. 1 was happy to be able to pick up Lloyd and her other teammates just as they have Hope so many times before.
“It was nice to be able to have her back and be able to make the save,” Hope said.
Chances were few and far between for France after Hope’s back-to-back glorious saves. She faced eight total shots, but just one more was on net and she had little trouble corralling that one and sending the French on their way.
But while Hope and the U.S. Department of Defense were locking down one side of the field, the French defense and goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi were equal to the task for the first 90 minutes of the game. Though the USWNT outshot France 10-8, the Americans too just had three shots on goal in regulation time and were turned aside each time.
The tide didn’t turn until the final minutes of the contest when it seemed all but certain the match was headed toward a draw. Fortunately, the USWNT wasn’t ready to pack it in just yet. In the final seconds of regulation time, the teams were still vying for possession in the middle of the pitch. But as the clock struck 90 minutes, 17-year-old U.S. forward Mallory Pugh was able to control the ball and played it beautifully through to Morgan on the run.
The veteran striker took just two touches at high speed before connecting with a left foot shot from just inside the penalty area and sending the ball into the lower right corner of the net, passed the dive of Bouhaddi, to put the Americans in front.
The goal was Morgan’s seventh of 2016, tying her with Crystal Dunn and Lloyd for the team lead so far this year. Afterward, the goal scorer credited Pugh, the youngest member of the team and the team’s leading assister in 2016 with four, with putting her in position to succeed.
“She has great decision making, so I knew when she took that ball down, I just needed to get my butt past the defenders, and Mal played me in perfectly. All I needed to do is put it past the keeper,” Morgan said. “I’m happy with the way that we played, and with the subs that came on, they really helped the team pick up energy in the second half. That was important as well. I mean, with all the work we had put in in the first and second halves, I didn’t want to come away with a tie. I thought we were deserving of a win.”
The final minutes of stoppage time played out uneventfully, sending the U.S. to a second straight 1-0 win in SheBelieves Cup play. For No. 1, the clean sheet was her 97th as a member of the USWNT and came in her 146th win and 192nd cap, all U.S. goalkeeper records. She is now 7-0 for the Stars and Stripes in 2016, and the team is 8-0, having outscored opponents by a combined score of 30-0
Though Hope was happy with the team’s performance, she was even more thrilled with the environment in Nashville, where 25,363 fans — a USWNT record in the state of Tennessee cheered the U.S. women on from beginning to end. After the match, No. 1 complimented the home crowd on their knowledge and enthusiasm for the game.
“I loved the crowd here in Nashville,” she said. “They loved so many different players and they loved different aspects of the game. They cheered for defensive plays, not just the attacking plays. So it was a really fun crowd to play in front of. I hope we can come back to Nashville soon.”
The final match of the SheBelieves Cup takes the USWNT back to Florida, where they’ll be looking to sweep the inaugural tournament on Wednesday night in Boca Raton.
However, in front of them stands their toughest challenge yet, a German Women’s National Team that is also unbeaten in two SheBelieves Cup matches. The Germans defeated France 1-0 in the opener on Thursday in Tampa and then came back to defeat England on Sunday in the Nashville nightcap. With those results, both teams currently have six points and a +2 goal differential, making Wednesday’s contest effectively a championship match.
The two teams last met last June, in the World Cup semifinals, where Hope logged a shutout to help the USWNT advance to the World Cup Final with a 2-0 victory.
They’ll be looking to duplicate that result on Wednesday at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida. The match between the USA and Germany is scheduled to begin at 4:30 pm PT and can be seen on ESPN3.
- WNT Defeats France 1-0 at She Believes Cup (USSoccer.com, Mar. 6, 2016)
- Hope Solo posts shutout, Alex Morgan scores to lead U.S. over France 1-0 (AP, Mar. 6, 2016)
- Alex Morgan goal lifts U.S. over France in Nashville (The Tennessean, Mar. 6, 2016)
- Alex Morgan’s late winner keeps USWNT unbeaten in SheBelieves Cup (Yahoo! Sports, Mar. 6, 2016)
- Despite Not Looking Its Sharpest, U.S. Continues To Win Games (ESPNW, Mar. 7, 2016)