Preparation for the Summer Olympics has officially begun for the United States women’s national team.
Sure, the Americans have played a cornucopia of games since their Women's World Cup title last summer, but none were against one of the world’s top teams and none gave the U.S. women an example of the type of effort they're going to need to be the first team to win the World Cup and Olympic gold medal in back-to-back summers.
[ Slideshow: United States vs. England in pictures ]
The U.S. defeated England 1-0 on Thursday in its first game of the inaugural SheBelieves Cup at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., thanks to a sizzling goal by substitute Crystal Dunn. But when the celebrating wears off, the studying needs to begin.
“England’s five in the world, bronze medalist in the World Cup, so you can’t take that away,” coach Jill Ellis said. “This is exactly what we need in these tight games. And they’re a very physical team. And I think tonight we took a few knocks but we’ll come through it.”
England stifled the USWNT’s normally dominant midfield by clogging the space and limiting a lot of through passes to forward Alex Morgan. It was a similar tactic Mexico employed during Olympic qualifying and something the Americans will continue to see in the games leading up to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
And for the most part it worked.
England frustrated star midfielder Carli Lloyd and newcomer Lindsey Horan in the middle of the field. The U.S. did find some success using the speed of youngster Mallory Pugh on the wing, but by the time she got her cross away, England had clogged the box for an easy clearance.
Pugh was, however, the best player on the field for much of her time in the game. She used her speed to take on and beat English defenders, who started backing off and giving Pugh more pace to work. While she had just one quality opportunity in front of the net — a header into the ground that was cleared from the front of England’s goal — it was clear that she was a bit of an unexpected pain for the English defense.
And it was Pugh’s replacement, Dunn, who came on in the 67th minute, that had the decisive goal.
Adding Dunn to the lineup was a move clearly meant to test the fitness of the English side. England had been playing high pressure most of the game and chasing the ball. By the time Dunn came in, the Lionesses were taking a little more time on throw ins and free kicks in an attempt to get a dash of extra rest.
Dunn’s fresh legs and speed were immediately an asset on the wing and that energy helped free herself up on the left side of the box for a shot that found the right upper corner of the net past the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Karen Bardsley.
Crystal Dunn got all of that ball and just powered it past Bardsley. USA 1, ENG 0. https://t.co/UrhOt5dZFA
— Graham Watson (@Yahoo_Graham) March 4, 2016
It was as pretty a goal as Dunn has had in her 12 games with the USWNT, and this is her 11th tally.
“It’s not easy coming off the bench, obviously,” Dunn said. “The game’s already played in and you have to find the rhythm of the game. I’ll work my butt off for this team and when I heard that I was going in I was excited. I was fortunate enough to score.”
Defensively, the U.S. faced a lot of high pressure from the English and had some difficulty clearing the ball out of trouble. While that kept England in the U.S. defensive third, the Lioness weren’t able to get many quality scoring opportunities.
Their best chance came during a two-on-one midway through the second half, but Toni Duggan opted to shoot right at U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo instead of passing to a wide-open Jodie Taylor, who would have had a tap-in.
“I was satisfied with the performance, but disappointed with the result,” England coach Mark Sampson said. “I thought we did enough to win the game tonight or get something from it. It’s taken an incredible goal from a U.S. substitute who had incredible ability to cost us this game. We’re disappointed with the result because we really believed we could come here and win.”
The USWNT will get no respite as it prepares for its next tournament match against No. 3 France on Sunday. France lost to No. 2 Germany 1-0 in the opening game of the tournament.