The U.S. women’s soccer team rebounded from Saturday’s loss to France with a 1-0 win at Spain on Tuesday.
It was a better performance, not just a better result – and it was no coincidence that it came with Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz back in the starting lineup. They gave the Americans boosts of creativity and steel that were clearly missing over the weekend.
Spain had a lot of possession, but that wasn’t too surprising. They play a methodical, passing-oriented style much like the one that brought their men’s team the 2010 World Cup title.
In response, the U.S. hit the gas pedal. They turned up the pressure and forced a lot of turnovers that led to fast breaks. And they made use of them, recording a 9-4 advantage in shots and a 3-2 edge in shots on goal. Those numbers would have been bigger had Alex Morgan not strayed offside at a few key moments.
The reward came in the 54th minute, when Christen Press scored the game’s only goal.
Rose Lavelle started the sequence with an interception about halfway into the U.S.’ end. She then gave the ball to Press near the edge of the center circle. Press took off from there, beating two Spanish players off the dribble on a sprint to the other end of the field. She shot from just inside the six-yard box, and Spain centerback Irene Paredes touched it into the net.
It wasn’t ruled an own goal because the ball was on its way toward the goal line when Paredes touched it.
Press had been a halftime substitute for Rapinoe, one of three changes U.S. coach Jill Ellis made at intermission. Tierna Davidson replaced right back Emily Sonnett and Mallory Pugh replaced Lindsey Horan, shifting the American formation from its usual 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3 for the second straight game.
At later stages of the second half, Jessica McDonald replaced Heath; McCall Zerboni replaced Ertz; and Samantha Mewis replaced Rose Lavelle. All six moves were made by the 76th minute. (And the record should show that Ellis used all six available substitutions in this game after leaving two on the table against France.)
The Zerboni substitution was especially notable, as it was the 32-year-old midfielder’s first game action since suffering a fractured elbow in a U.S. game last Sept. 5. She missed the rest of the NWSL season and endured a lot of recovery work.
With the American ship now righted, players will come home for a few more weeks of winter rest. They’ll reconvene in late February for the SheBelieves Cup, which begins at Talen Energy Stadium on Feb. 27. The U.S. will play Japan and England will play Brazil that night, then the teams will head to Nashville and Tampa for the rest of the round-robin tournament.