Rose Lavelle’s geometric masterstroke in the 79th minute was all that separated the USA and Canada in a lively opening match to the 2021 She Believes Cup.
The 1-0 victory for the Americans means that the Canadians’ lengthy wait for a win over their southern neighbors will go on. They have not beaten the USA since 2001 and are now 3-51-7 in the all-time head-to head.
The match was tightly contested and extremely heated right from the first whistle to the last. Very few international teams can match the physicality of the USWNT and that was exactly what Canada were able to successfully do in Orlando.
Canada dropped deep, crowded the box, conceded possession, and played on the counter. The resourceful Canadian front three of Janine Beckie, Nichelle Prince and Jess Fleming carried out their roles deftly. Beckie and Fleming tracked back, stayed physical, and disrupted the usually peerless Lindsey Horan and Julie Ertz.
Replacement goalkeeper, Steph Labbe, was inspired in goal for the Canadians. Punching away numerous dangerous crosses throughout and palming away one venomous long range effort by Lynn Williams.
In the end, the USA bench proved to be the difference. In the 63rd minute, Vlatko Andonovski made a triple substitution. Out came Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Catarina Macario, and in came Alex Morgan, Christen Press, and Rose Lavelle.
Not long after, Horan thrashed the bar, Ertz curled one wide, and then Morgan’s glancing header skipped just beyond the post. Then, just 15 minutes after their introduction, Lavelle latched on to a knock down before anyone else could and squeezed the ball into the net.
The heartbreaking result, for the Canadians, will be eased by their extraordinary effort. Losing just 1-0 to the Americans could be seen as an achievement. Here’s a player by player account of the match from a Dash perspective:
On Thursday night the Dash’s longest serving player - after Rachel Daly - fulfilled a similar role for her national side as she does for her club team. Allysha Chapman never gave in.
Arguably Canada’s best player on the night and perhaps even one of the best performances from either side, Chapman was a formidable presence at left back for the Canadians. As Chapman lined up opposite NWSL all time leading goal scorer Lynn Williams, in the USA attack, you would be forgiven for questioning her ability to sustain her levels for 90 minutes. But she did.
I can only think of one key moment where Williams was able to evade Chapman’s tight marking all game. Furthermore, the defender was aggressive when she committed to what felt like nearly a dozen duels.
Chapman set the tone for the underdogs from North of the border. Raucous tackles, relentless focus, and spirited resolve.
It will come as absolutely no surprise to Houston Dash fans that Nichelle Prince thrived in her 71 minutes at Exploria Stadium. Perhaps what will intrigue Dash fans the most is that her impressive performance came with an exciting tactical surprise.
With the legendary Christine Sinclair absent through injury, Canada head coach Bev Priestman, opted to play Prince as the lone central forward in a 4-3-3. This is something we have even wondered whether James Clarkson would decide to experiment with, when Rachel Daly was unavailable.
Priestman’s gamble worked. Prince was able to keep two of the best center backs in the world on their toes for over an hour. Pulling Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper out of position constantly, Prince was able to create space for other players to attack into.
It wasn’t her own personal shot creation that was so devastating to the USA defense, but more so her close control, timing, and positional awareness.
Much like her 2020 season with the Dash, Prince’s high performance levels were not reflected in the clinical “box score” statistics. When Prince was bearing down on goal, just 10 yards out, she decided to square the ball to Janine Beckie, who shot straight into Alyssa Naeher’s hands. If Prince can find her killing instinct in front of goal, she has the potential to be one of the NWSL’s premier attackers.
It was a historic evening for the Dash’s in-form central midfielder. Sophie Schmidt became just the 14th player in the CONCACAF region to reach the milestone of 200 international caps.
However, she did have to wait nearly an hour to achieve that milestone. Priestman opted to start Quinn - who was exceptional - instead of Schmidt, as Canada’s holding midfield safety valve. When Schmidt entered the fray in the 55th minute, with Canada holding defensively strong, there was still plenty on the line.
Despite an initial nervy few minutes, Schmidt really grew into the game. She marshaled the edge of the box admirably, executing a pair of crucial sliding challenges to stop the USA attacks dead in their tracks.
The least utilized Dash player of the night, Kristie Mewis was given a measly eight minutes to make an impact for the USA. With the match seemingly won at 1-0, she had little pressure to impose her attacking ability on the proceedings.
Despite the low stakes, Mewis’ impact was still notable. Her trademark “Hollywood’’ long passes, laser left foot, and quickness of thought were all on show in her brief cameo. Perhaps what stood out most, for Mewis, was her connection with fellow substitute Christen Press. In the final 10 minutes, they produced a breath-taking telepathic one-two passing move that saw Press surge into the Canada box and create an enticing chance for the hosts.