The United States women's national team earned a 1-0 victory Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, in its first match of the 2016 SheBelieves Cup.
Sixty-seventh-minute substitute Crystal Dunn scored the lone goal in the 72nd minute of the game to hand the Americans all three points. Dunn turned England defender Steph Houghton on the edge of the 18-yard box and cut inside on goal. From there, the Washington Spirit forward fired a right-footed shot into the top corner, via Fox Soccer:
National team star Megan Rapinoe couldn't help but admire the impressive placement:
👀oh girl @crysdunn_19 she Dunn did it. 🐸☕️.— Megan Rapinoe (@mPinoe) March 4, 2016
Dunn's goal was one of the few highlights of a tedious affair.
This was the United States' first match since its 2-0 win over Canada in the CONCACAF Olympic qualification final Feb. 21. According to USSoccer.com, head coach Jill Ellis opted for almost the same lineup that picked up that victory. Emily Sonnett replaced Becky Sauerbrunn at center back, which was the lone change.
Continuity tends to breed fluidity on the pitch, but that wasn't the case for the U.S. as England stymied the team at every opportunity. The Three Lionesses applied constant pressure on the ball, and their level of physicality was unique in that few teams can match the United States in that regard.
The match bogged down in midfield as the two teams constantly exchanged possession. The ball rarely stayed in the final third. The Guardian's Caitlin Murray shared the first-half stats, which illustrated the physical nature of the half and both teams' constant struggles in attack:
England argued it deserved a penalty kick in the first half after Sauerbrunn appeared to have handled the ball in the box. BBC Sport broke down the play frame by frame, and the pictures look inconclusive:
Sauerbrunn's hand might have hit the ball, but she may not have met the threshold of what is a deliberate handball. Referee Tatiana Guzman waved play on.
The United States started to pick up its play in the second half, especially after Dunn and Christen Press entered the game. Ben Jata of Upper 90 Soccer believes both players should factor more heavily into the national team, though he's not sure how Ellis will accommodate all of her attacking talent:
For me, Lloyd, Press, Dunn & Pugh are all starters. Don't care how it gets done, just figure it out. #USWNT— Ben Jata (@Ben_Jata) March 4, 2016
In addition to Dunn, 17-year-old Mallory Pugh was a bright spot for the U.S. She showed pace and creativity on the ball, offering flashes of her massive potential. Pugh slowed down as the game went on, which wasn't surprising, given her age.
Top Drawer Soccer's Travis Clark feels sorry for the players who are going to encounter Pugh at the collegiate level:
Mallory Pugh is going to dominate at UCLA this fall. That will be fun.— Travis Clark (@travismclark) March 4, 2016
While Thursday's match didn't offer much in the way of excitement, that wasn't the point for Ellis. This time is about the coach finding her preferred lineup and tactical plan ahead of the 2016 Olympics and the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.
As Ellis is experimenting with her side, the United States is bound to experience some growing pains on the pitch, all of which should pay off down the line.
The U.S. will head to Nashville, Tennessee, to face off with France on Sunday in its next match of the tournament, and its final clash will be a rematch of the 2015 World Cup semifinal against Germany on March 9.
England won't be able to dwell on the result for too long since it will face the Germans, who are likely still smarting after losing to the Three Lionesses in the third-place match at the World Cup, on Sunday.
"England's [No. 5] in the world, bronze medalist in the World Cup, so you can't take that away," said Ellis after the match, per Graham Watson of FC Yahoo. "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."
For Dunn, the key to the win was being patient and waiting for just the right opportunity.
"We knew coming in that they're a hard-working team and for us it was about riding the waves," she said, per Murray. "We had really great moments in the game where they were a little bit tired and we were pinging the ball around. It was only a matter of time before we were going to get a chance."
England coach Mark Sampson wasn't entirely discouraged in defeat.
"We're satisfied with the performance, but disappointed with the result," he said. "It took an incredible goal from a US substitute with incredible ability to cost us this game. So we're disappointed because we really believed we could come in and win."