The U.S. women's national team didn’t win the SheBelieves Cup but it did, at least, win a SheBelieves Cup game.
It wasn’t a spellbinding performance by any means, and it took a couple late saves by Ashlyn Harris to prevent a third consecutive draw, but the USWNT did close out the tournament with a victory and a second-place finish.
After two disjointed efforts to begin the tournament, it was a more cohesive performance against the Brazilians, with a couple of key additions to the starting lineup – Sam Mewis and Becky Sauerbrunn – making a positive impact.
But the U.S. still isn't firing on all cylinders, as evidenced by a narrow win over the tournament's weakest side. Here are three observations from the USWNT’s win over Brazil.
Mewis makes a difference in the middle
When Lindsey Horan was declared out before the tournament began, Sam Mewis seemed an obvious choice to start in her absence. Instead, Ellis chose to start Mallory Pugh out of position in central midfield in the USWNT’s first two games, a decision that produced mixed results at best.
After coming on for the final 30 minutes against England on Saturday, Mewis did get her chance to start against Brazil. She took it with both hands.
The NC Courage star immediately brought more balance into the U.S. midfield and offered more of a defensive presence than Pugh and Rose Lavelle did in front of Julie Ertz against Japan and England.
Mewis’ positioning and physicality took pressure off Ertz and, by extension, the back line, which was also more cohesive with Becky Sauerbrunn back in the lineup.
Mewis was all over the field against Brazil, making key tackles and blocks while controlling and advancing possession. Mewis is never going to start over Horan, but she may have solidified her spot as the team’s top backup at the No. 8 position moving forward.
Harris stakes her claim for backup GK job
Ashlyn Harris has been the unquestioned backup goalkeeper to starter Alyssa Naeher for some time, but Adrianna Franch’s presence has recently been looming large in the background.
Franch has won the NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year for two straight seasons but despite her standout club form, she had yet to be capped by the USWNT – until Naeher’s injury opened the door for her to start Saturday against England. Franch had some good moments but she made a vital error in picking up Pugh’s back pass, which led to England’s first goal. She also could have positioned herself better on England’s second.
Ellis went back to Harris against Brazil, and the 33-year-old stated her case to remain the USWNT’s No. 2 in goal. Harris commanded her box well, made all the routine saves, and came up big in the one moment the U.S. needed a massive stop from its goalkeeper.
A win that won't inspire confidence
Entering the game against Brazil the U.S. had won just one of its four matches in 2019, a surprising return for a team that just went a year and a half without losing a game. Though the U.S. did get back in the win column on Tuesday, it wasn’t a performance that will inspire a huge amount of confidence moving forward.
Brazil was easily the weakest team in the SheBelieves Cup, having lost its first two games by a combined 5-2 score. Failing to defeat Vadao’s side would have truly set off alarm bells for the USWNT, and it may have happened were it not for Harris’ aforementioned save.
Ellis will take heart from the fact her team did generate chances on the night, but several players – Alex Morgan, who remains on 99 international goals, chief among them – failed to finish off presentable opportunities.
The U.S. has five games before the World Cup kicks off, but just one against a fellow contender to lift the trophy in France. That match is up next – on April 4 against Australia. Ellis will have a month to reconsider her approach and will hope to put on a better display against the Matildas than we saw in the USWNT’s subpar SheBelieves Cup.