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



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

The United States won the first CONCACAF W Gold Cup trophy, defeating Brazil 1-0 on Sunday night in San Diego. USWNT captain Lindsey Horan provided the game-winning goal right before halftime.

After a handy defeat to regional rivals Mexico in the group stage of the tournament, the USWNT capped off their Gold Cup performance with three gritty performances in the knock-out stages, first against Colombia in the quarterfinals, then a wild semifinal against Canada in the rain that required penalty kicks to resolve, then finally Brazil in the final.

In the end, the Gold Cup provided stellar preparation for the USWNT ahead of this summer’s Olympics, not just because the rhythms of a tournament could be mimicked but because of the quality of the games.

After the win over Canada, interim head coach Twila Kilgore praised her team’s mentality, saying, “These moments are actually really critical to building towards major events.” It’s impossible to know yet just how the USWNT will look heading into this summer’s Paris Olympics, but the Gold Cup proved to be a much more worthy test — and an indication of the increased quality across CONCACAF — compared to 2022’s qualifiers ahead of the 2023 World Cup.

USWNT’s team goal opens scoring

As first-half stoppage time loomed, it was going to take something special to break what had become a cagey matchup. Overlooking her short options, midfielder Sam Coffey played a tremendous long ball toward the right wing, getting past the final two Brazilian defensive lines and setting Trinity Rodman up to run onto the ball in space.

Much like Wednesday, the Snapdragon Stadium pitch betrayed Rodman. Rather than being eaten by a cynical puddle, her dribble bobbled on the ground and forced her to settle its progress before the endline and reassess thereafter. She found Emily Fox with a close-range recirculation, and the Arsenal full back sent in a tremendous cross to the far post, where Lindsey Horan was all too eager to add another emphatic headed goal to her growing collection of dunks.

In one of the few remaining big-game tests between now and the Olympics, the sequence should help show Coffey’s value to this side. A direct USWNT is a more dangerous USWNT, and having a midfield who can capably do the defensive work while spraying line-breaking distribution from deep is invaluable. Coffey’s role in springing the sequence could not have come at a better time in that respect, particularly against another team that qualified for the tournament in Paris.

Meanwhile, Horan continues to add to the list of reasons she’s so vital for the USWNT this cycle. There was plenty of ceremony as she inherited the 10 shirt and began the de facto penalty taker. Perhaps as meaningful is her new role as a dependable aerial threat in the box for set pieces and run-of-play crosses alike — something that made Julie Ertz go supernova in the 2019 World Cup. The goal capped what’s been a strong tournament for the United States captain, with the final forcing her to play multiple midfield roles at various stages.

It was a bit odd not to see forward Jaedyn Shaw or defender Jenna Nighswonger starting against Brazil after they’ve both had such good tournaments. Shaw eventually did enter the game in the 71st minute for Coffey, but as a 10. That should be a further argument for Shaw as a starter though, given her versatility on the field. If she’s going to also get played as a midfielder, she needs more time with frequent starter Lindsey Horan.

Perhaps it was a preseason loading issue; it did seem like the United States was more committed to absorbing heavy Brazilian pressure in the first half, which would then let them bring in a high-energy second half. But that’s also never really been the U.S. style, to bide their time that way. Still, this late in the tournament, and especially after that energy-sapping game against Canada, it’s a valid strategy, and we saw it pay off in the first half. Brazil was mostly limited to long-range shots outside of the box and the U.S. took their chance and made the most of it on Horan’s goal.

At the same time, it’s become quite clear that Nighswonger and Shaw are starters. Nighswonger in particular, given the pool of left backs currently available. Crystal Dunn has lost a bit of speed and her best position is still operating out of the midfield anyway, so it would be great to see her shift centrally and for Nighswonger to really own the role and be able to continue cultivating a relationship with both whoever cements the left center back position — likely Tierna Davidson at this point — and with Shaw herself as a left winger. That’s going to be one of the key relationships going forward for this team and, loading notwithstanding, it’s important to get those relationships developed as much as possible as quickly as possible if they’re focused on Olympic success.

More than a trophy

The trophy is obviously the highlight of the tournament, but fans should be encouraged by the way in which this group navigated the Gold Cup knockouts. Last summer, the USWNT couldn’t recover from an underwhelming group stage, springing to life too late into its eventual round of 16 elimination. After a stunning 2-0 defeat in this tournament’s group finale against Mexico, a team with lesser resolve could have similarly suffered.

Instead, the USWNT owned its matchup against Colombia from the opening whistle and never relinquished control. They came through in miserable conditions against eternal rival Canada. And, tonight, they held their resolve against a cagey Brazil side and beat them at their own game. To navigate the bracket with that range of approaches is particularly impressive.

 

Additional observations

  • Morgan’s physicality in this match was clutch in the first half before it got her into essentially foul trouble in the second. Horan’s go-ahead goal probably wouldn’t have happen without Morgan also making that same run and getting her body in behind a defender for a screen.
  • While Naeher re-upped her reputation as the most ice-cold keeper the United States has, it was still a shame not to see more goalkeeper rotation in a tournament that both interim head coach Twila Kilgore and the players have spoken of as being important for the way it simulates Olympic conditions, and against highly competitive opponents.
  • Meanwhile, the back line should be set. Emily Fox, Tierna Davidson, Naomi Girma, and Nighswonger made a convincing defensive unit, which is nice to see. Let at least one line feel somewhat settled without having to push the “let’s see” phase through SheBelieves or even June friendlies.

(Top photo: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)





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