USWNT beats Brazil to close the SheBelieves Cup with its best performance of the tournament

Caitlin Murray
United States' Tobin Heath drives past Brazil's Andressa during the first half of a SheBelieves Cup soccer match Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Tobin Heath (17) scored the only goal as the United States beat Brazil and looked very good in the attack. (Associated Press)

The United States women's national team has finished its SheBelieves Cup campaign on a high note, beating Brazil 1-0 on Tuesday night.

The Americans looked dangerous throughout but the lone goal came in the 20th minute, when Tobin Heath fired a rocket into the upper corner of the net:

The Americans had their share of chances to increase the winning margin, but finishing let them down. Within the first minute, Mallory Pugh earned what looked like a penalty kick but the referee waved it off.

With the result, the U.S. finished second in the SheBelieves Cup standings and England, which was victories in two of its three games, won the tournament. Japan finished third and Brazil finish in last place.

Although the SheBelieves Cup is a tournament of glorified friendlies, it's the last tournament-style test for the USWNT before the Women's World Cup this summer. The SheBelieves Cup, hosted by U.S. Soccer, is designed to mimic the round-robin group stage of a World Cup.

The Americans have five more friendly matches left on their calendar before they head to France in an attempt to defend their title.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday's match.

The U.S. midfield looked better thanks to Mewis

The absence of Lindsey Horan has been a problem for the USWNT in the SheBelieves Cup. Important on both sides of the ball, she is virtually a guaranteed starter for the U.S. alongside Rose Lavelle and Julie Ertz. Without Horan, coach Jill Ellis opted to go for a more attacking look by asking usual winger Mallory Pugh to take her place. The results weren't great.

But on Tuesday, Samantha Mewis – the most like-for-like replacement for Horan – was given her first start since October and shined in the midfield. Mewis did well defensively to win balls and break up opposing play, and in possession she helped relieve pressure with one-touch passes and provided an outlet with late-arriving runs.

She was good enough that it's a wonder she hasn't pushed herself into starting contention. At the very least, Mewis has surely secured her spot on the World Cup team beyond any doubt.

TAMPA, FLORIDA - MARCH 05: Samantha Mewis #3 of the USA looks to pass the ball over Erika #4 of Brazil in the first half during the She Believes Cup  at Raymond James Stadium on March 05, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Samantha Mewis (3) played a key role in the U.S. putting together its best performance of the SheBelieves Cup. (Getty)

A potent attack continues to buoy the U.S. team

For all the talk of roster turnover since the previous World Cup-Olympics cycle, it's a trio of veterans that figures to give the U.S. the best chance of winning another trophy this summer: Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath.

Rapinoe has been perhaps the USWNT's best player at the SheBelieves Cup, wreaking havoc along the left flank, scoring in the first two games and creating dangerous moments through sheer individual skill. Along the opposite flank, Heath has been similarly impactful, also scoring twice in the tournament and dazzling her way through defenses. Morgan has seen less of the ball up top and has less to show for it, but in addition to her lone goal, she has done well to check back for the ball and drag defenders with her to open up space for her teammates.

But that's not all. Christen Press, the striker-turned-winger, has been excellent off the bench to the point that Ellis has admitted she is forcing questions of what the first-choice starting lineup should be. Like the other attacking stars, Press played a role in the U.S. winning the 2015 World Cup but the natural striker has noticeably evolved since then in playing the role Ellis wants her to play.

If there's any reason that the Americans didn't win the SheBelieves Cup, it comes down to defensive issues – in this tournament, the USWNT gave up multiple goals in back-to-back games for the first time since 2011. The attack did its part, and it continued to look impressive on Tuesday against Brazil.

Brazil was a downgraded test

As improved as the Americans looked on Tuesday, context is important: The Brazilians didn't offer the same level of challenge that Japan and England did earlier in the tournament.

Even though the Brazilian women are World Cup-bound after dominating in their qualifying campaign during last year's Copa America Feminina, they've struggled ever since. With a loss to the U.S., they’ve have now lost seven straight matches.

The Brazilians lacked the organization or the speed to challenge the U.S., and they lack the depth to change a game, which the Americans have in spades.

That's not to say that Tuesday wasn't an improvement from the U.S. – the midfield was the big worry coming into the game and it was undoubtedly more effective – but a win over Brazil doesn't signal that all the USWNT's problems have been fixed.

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