USWNT finishes difficult 2017 with an encouraging win over Canada

The United States women’s soccer team ended a tough 2017 on a high note against Canada. (AP)
The United States women’s soccer team ended a tough 2017 on a high note against Canada. (AP)

It was, perhaps, a performance that was unusual during a fairly forgettable 2017 for the United States women’s national team.

Sure, the United States beat regional rivals Canada 3-1 in San Jose, thanks to goals by Julie Ertz, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd. And, yes, this was neither an Olympic nor a Women’s World Cup year, meaning that nothing the defending world champions did — or didn’t do — was enormously consequential.

The way it works now, with the World Cup and Olympics falling in back-to-back years and World Cup Qualifiers, such as they are, coming the year before the World Cup, the first year in the new cycle — like 2017 — is the least important year. Yet it was also a sobering year.

By no means were things as dire as on the men’s side. The men failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986, precipitating an existential crisis that could elect a new U.S. Soccer president and alter everything we do at every level — or at least cause us to reconsider things. That team, plainly, needs a total rebuild now that it won’t play in the sport’s capstone event for at least half a decade. And they probably need more than that: a top-to-bottom rethinking.

The women, however, have been rebuilding for a good two years already with plenty of promising young sparks. Winning the 2015 World Cup gave head coach Jill Ellis the mandate to cycle out the entrenched generation of veterans and build a modern team in her vision. It didn’t even matter that the U.S. women bombed at the 2016 Rio Olympics, crashing out to Sweden in the quarterfinals on penalties — their worst-ever performance at a major tournament.

Ellis has her share of critics, but her job security seems considerable. Yet 2017 was not a good year for her program either. The women are in no danger of missing out on qualification for their sport’s signature event next year. And chances are good that everything will be set right by the time the World Cup rolls back around in France in 2019.

But the U.S. women hosted two international events this year, the SheBelieves Cup and the Tournament of Nations, both of which are U.S. Soccer inventions to formalize — and probably monetize — the raft of friendlies the Americans play anyway. The four-team round-robin format in both tournaments drew strong opponents with the promise of three good matches.

In spite of historically dominating such unofficial tournaments — the SheBelieves Cup was held in early March; the Tournament of Nations at the turn of July to August — the Americans won neither event. At the first one, in fact, they lost back-to-back games for the first time in well over a decade. They even placed last.

At the Tournament of Nations, held on the West Coast to balanced SheBelieves’ East Coast home, the Americans lost their opener to Australia and would place second behind the perfect Matildas. Again, it mattered little, but then again it also painted a picture of a team that withered against strong opposition. The U.S. had taken a step back, ostensibly to take several forward in the coming summers.

“The year has been hard, we’ve had some bad results,” winger Megan Rapinoe told FOX Sports 1 after Sunday’s game. “We’ve had some good ones, it’s been up and down.”

The Americans fairly dominated Canada on Sunday, but it took a late surge to put the game out of reach after Janine Beckie had equalized for the visitors after the intermission. In a physical game — the Canadians must have kicked as many shins as soccer balls — the U.S. didn’t build out its lead until the very late going.

Rapinoe’s sharp cross to the near post, where Ertz nodded it home, gave the world’s top-ranked team a quick lead over the fifth-ranked Canadians. Staggeringly, it was Ertz’s sixth goal in eight games and her 14th U.S. goal overall — even though she’s played most of her national team career as a defender or, more recently, as a holding midfielder.

 


Just after the break, however, Beckie finished off a zippy counter-attack.

But a moment of inspiration from Christen Press, who hadn’t quite found a way into the game until then, salvaged things before the hour. She found Alex Morgan across the box, who finished cleanly.


In the 80th minute, Morgan headed on Rapinoe’s cross and Lloyd, crashing the goal, ran it into the net to record the final score.


The victory mattered inasmuch as that the U.S. had tied Canada 1-1 in Vancouver on Thursday, just the 10th time in 57 head-to-head matchups that the Americans had failed to win.

“We got it taken to us in Canada, I think we all knew that,” Rapinoe said. “By our standards, it was a very bad performance. It wasn’t great tonight in all aspects, but much better. Overall, we knew we played bad and had to respond.”

The Americans responded from one game to the next. Now they will have to respond from this year to the next.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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