Rose Lavelle (right) turned out to be a big relief for the USWNT. (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)
ORLANDO – The U.S. women’s national team might have eked out a 1-0 win over Canada in the opening game of the SheBelieves Cup for both teams, thanks to a Rose Lavelle goal. But the Americans should not look at their performance through rose-colored glasses. They were that inconsistent at both ends of the pitch.
Despite deploying a young and inexperienced team, Canada made the Americans sweat for good portions of the game at Exploria Stadium Thursday night.
Lavelle, a second-half substitute who was the Bronze Ball winner at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, snapped a scoreless tie in the 79th minute by connecting from eight yards on the right side of the area to lift the USA to the victory and three points. Lavelle, who tallied her 14th international goals, replaced Catarina Macario, who struggled in the midfield, in the 62nd minute. That’s when head coach Vlatko Andonovski also brought in Christian Press Alex Morganin a triple substitution as Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd also were taken out.
“Rose brings this creativity that is so special,” U.S. midfielder Midge Purce said. “You get lost watching it. … Rose was remakable. Her goal was beautiful. Everyone who stepped into the game did a picturesque job. They make everything easier. That’s exactly what she did.”
Still, Lavelle’s goal could not disguise what was an ultra-disappointing performance by the hosts. You’ve got to give the plucky Canadians credit for making them sweat, but for most of the encounter the USWNT was off its game. Its defense was sloppy and allowed Canada some near close encounters. Offensively, the Americans could not find a rhythm.
Andonovski was not critical of the performance, but he sounded concerned in some areas.
“When we don’t score, when we create 10 opportunities to score and we score one, I’m disappointed because I want us to score more goals.” he said. “And on top of that, if we allow any shots to goal I’m not I’m not going to be happy. I thought that tonight they had couple of a couple of good opportunities to score, and we’re going to look into a little bit deeper why that happened.
“One of the things that makes me happy from the defensive standpoint was that they didn’t break us down to create the opportunity. We gave them the ball, they created the opportunity. We made a mistake, the created opportunities. So that’s the only the positive thing – why do we give the ball away, and how all that happened was something that we’re gonna have to look into a little bit deeper.”
Despite playing without several regulars due to injuries or COVID-19 travel restrictions, a young Canadian side made a game of it in an opening scoreless half. Among the missing was injured captain Christine Sinclair, who has scored more international goals (186) than any oother player on the planet.
Prior to the game, Canada head coach Bev Priestman asked her team to be brave against a veteran USA team and they followed her instructions.
“For an opening game and a new coach coming in, you want the players to put everything out on the field,” she said. “We took it to the U.S.
“I think there were moments in the game we were brilliant.”
Canada suffered a major blow some 11 minutes into the match when goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan of Sky Blue FC was forced to the sidelines with a leg injury. Stephanie Labbe took over and saved her teammates on several occasions.
The Americans might have enjoyed the early possession advantage, but it was the Maple Leafs who took the first shot of consequence. That was in the 17th minute when Janine Beckie headed a Vanessa Gilles corner kick straight to goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
Then Labbe took over, denying the Americans on several occasions. Her most memorable saves included a stop on Lynn Williams and parrying a Carli Lloyd attempt over the crossbar in the 35th minute and stopping her again two minutes into the second half.
Megan Rapinoe, who had most a silent night up until that point, sent a shot that Labbe stopped before bobbling in the 52nd minute.
The game became a goalkeeper’s duel because only two minutes later, Naeher stopped Nichelle Prince’s shot in a 2 on 1 situation.
In the 62nd minute, Rapinoe decided to go straight to the goal on a free kick on the left side, but Labbe punched away that effort.
Asked if he thought the team was rusty, Andonovski replied: “I don’t know rusty is the right word but I agree that we could have done a better job in the final third. It was definitely not for lack of creativity, but I would say it was more about lack of execution. We created some good opportunities after a good build up or, we were able to break them down with with good creativity. But we were not able to execute. I’m just glad that after missing all those opportunities, we were able to find a way to score a goal.”
In the opening game of the doubleheader, Brazil defeated Argentina, 4-1.
The USA meets Brazil on Sunday at 3 p.m. before the Canadians face the Argentines.