USWNT’s Mallory Swanson dominates Canada in SheBelieves Cup
The US women’s national team opened the 2023 SheBelieves Cup with a solid 2-0 win over reigning Olympic champions Canada. Winger Mallory Swanson scored twice in the first half, the first with a sharp finish and the second from a giveaway deep in Canada’s defensive third.
The rest of the game was played in more even conditions, but USA were able to finish the game comfortably. Combined with Brazil’s 1-0 triumph over Japan earlier in the day, the win puts the USA top of the SheBelieves Cup standings in goal difference. The SheBelieves Cup is the penultimate window of international games for the USA before the 2023 Women’s World Cup begins in July and is played in Australia and New Zealand.
Off the field, the game began with a show of solidarity between the US and Canadian players on two fronts. Players from Canada have had a very public dispute with their association over financial resources and pay, for which the American players have expressed support, and both teams wore bracelets showing their support for transgender students due to recent legislation in Florida, where the game was played.
1. The USWNT is off to a fast start and is giving Canada a hard time
It’s tempting to think that the upheaval in the Canadian camp over the past few days – at first not playing due to a lack of federation support, then suddenly it did – played a part in how the opening minutes played out. The purple pre-match shirts with the words “Enough Is Enough” said pretty much everything about what Canada’s players are currently thinking about their federation.
The fact of the matter is that the USA stunned their northern neighbors from kick-off and didn’t really let Canada catch their breath until about 20 minutes into the game.
By this point, the USA were already 1-0 up over Swanson (née Pugh) and it could have been more. Swanson’s first attempt came just 12 seconds into the game, although Canada goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan was well positioned to stop her shot from a tight angle. Sheridan did well to save Ashley Sanchez’s attempt a minute later and it was believed, albeit briefly, that this could be one of those nights in front of goal for the USA.
But Swanson soon banished such thoughts in the seventh minute, firing home from 16 yards out after Alex Morgan – who was being honored for her 200th camp before the game – touched Trinity Rodman’s cross back to the top of the box.
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Eventually, the USA had to take their foot off the accelerator, eventually doing so midway through the first half and giving the visitors their first long streak of possession around the 22nd minute. But Canada still looked a bit shocked, and Swanson then doubled the home side’s lead in the 34th minute. Morgan pressured Vanessa Gilles into a weak back pass and while Sheridan tried to offer a better passing angle, Swanson lunged and shot into a wide open net.
The USA only came under pressure when they were careless with the ball in their own half. One such incident occurred in first-half injury time when defender Alana Cook passed the ball to Canada’s Janine Beckie, but US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher was there to stop the ensuing shot with a beautiful save.
The high pressing tactic is a tactic that the US cannot use in every game. Brazil and Japan, the other opponents in this tournament, certainly have the ability to play through such an approach. But Thursday’s game showed that it can be very effective if used at the right time.
2. Swanson is doing her best to secure a guaranteed world championship spot
Is Swanson in the best shape of her career? Strong arguments can be made, at least at international level. Granted, she didn’t have a bad 2022, scoring 11 goals in 17 regular-season games for the Chicago Red Stars and hitting seven more goals for the USWNT, including one in the Concacaf W Championship semifinals against Costa Rica.
But now Swanson is taking her game to another level.
Thursday’s game managed four straight games by one goal and now has five goals this year. Better still, she’s consistently in a good position to get a clear view of goal.
All in all, with competition for the wing positions including Lynn Williams, Midge Purce, Megan Rapinoe and the absent Sophia Smith, Swanson can’t take anything for granted. Newcomer Trinity Rodman is also in this group, although she failed to capitalize on the open field opportunities offered to her that night.
But for now, Swanson is making it impossible for US manager Vlatko Andonovski to remove her from the lineup.
3. Positioning and staff answer question #6
With Julie Ertz’s continued absence, the holding midfielder’s position has been a hot topic of late as to who will take over. Is it Andi Sullivan, Sam Coffey, Lindsey Horan or Taylor Kornieck?
In that game, Sullivan took the No. 6 spot in defensive midfield, though Horan was often by her side to provide another option in the build-up. It has to be said, Sullivan hasn’t hurt her prospects of retaining her place in the lineup. While Sullivan’s strength lies in her distribution, she delivered some crunchy tackles in the first half that helped keep Canada under pressure.
So maybe the problem wasn’t so much the staff as their positioning. Horan’s mobility and dexterity means an extra outlet, but also one that can provide defensive help when needed. In her post-match comments, Horan seemed to prefer playing deeper alongside Sullivan.
The prospect of meeting Japan and Brazil in the remaining games will present a different kind of challenge for the USA. But it’s worth giving the Sullivan/Horan partnership another try ahead of the Worlds later this summer.
Best and worst performers
Best: Mallory Swanson, USWNT
Goals don’t come easier than Swanson’s second, but she finished her first goal in style.
Best: Kailen Sheridan, Canada
Sheridan kept the game from spinning out of control in its earliest moments, including a high-profile save from Ashley Sanchez’s drive in the third minute.
Best: Andi Sullivan, USWNT
There were a lot of questions about the No. 6 position and while Horan dropped low to build up offense, Sullivan put up some solid tackles and was also sharp on the ball.
Worst: Vanessa Gilles, Canada
Gilles had a nightmare night regarding their distribution. Adding to her slip on Swanson’s second goal, she almost conceded another goal to the USA late in the first half, only to make up for her mistake by blocking Morgan’s shot.
Worst: Christine Sinclair, Canada
Aside from a header late in the first half, Sinclair made little impact and was substituted off in the 57th minute.
Worst: Jessica Fleming, Canada
Did little to regulate the game in the early stages and wasn’t a huge factor on the defensive side of the ball.
Highlights and notable moments
Mallory Swanson said coach Vlatko Andonovski said he wanted the USWNT to start quickly and they did just that. Swanson scored in the 7th minute with a nice finish.
Mallory Swanson scores in her fourth straight match ♨️
Check out the SheBelieves Cup @hbomax pic.twitter.com/KCtCktpGaC
— B/R Football (@brfootball) February 17, 2023
However, Swanson wasn’t done there.
Canada defender Vanessa Gilles helped Swanson with a terrible back pass to goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, pressured by Alex Morgan to do so. Swanson took a tumble, but to her credit, she finished well.
One more for Mallory Swanson 💥
Check out the SheBelieves Cup @hbomax pic.twitter.com/GYs1PX8E3a
— B/R Football (@brfootball) February 17, 2023
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After the game: What the coaches and players said
USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski on Swanson: “I don’t know if I would say [two goals is] what I expect, but that’s what I would wish for from her every game: two goals. It’s not just the two goals. Her flair in the game makes the game look so easy at times. Every time I see them play, not only in games but also in training, I feel like I can go back and play that game. It looks that simple. She plays so well individually, but more and more we can see how Mal combines with the players [her].”
Andonovski on Sullivan’s performance: “I thought [Sullivan] was enormous. I found them very good, defensive and covered every little gap. And part of the reason Canada couldn’t break us through the middle was Andi and her ability to shut down.”
Andonovski on Horan’s performance: “Lindsey was Lindsey. The pressure doesn’t phase her and she has the ability to do things on the ball that not many players can. She’s just a world-class midfielder. But one thing I was pleased about Lindsay is that she doesn’t neglect work off the ball. She puts an appropriate shift and effort on the ball. That makes her world class.
USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan on her role in midfield: “I love it. I enjoy going on the ball and feeling the game. I think I did that today, that’s where I feel like I’m at my best, but the others around me allowed it I think the team played great today and I was a little more involved than usual.”
Canada coach Bev Priestman on her players’ performances after a week of protests against the Canadian FA: “In a lot of ways you think your players are superhuman and they’re not. I was obviously frustrated on the touchline because we started flat. I think it’s the result of the emotions and the days lost in training and adding all those things together , they definitely play a role. But I think, not to make excuses, I thought the USA did really well. They’re in the third game of 2023. They had the two games in New Zealand, they had a longer camp, and you could see that.
Key Statistics (provided by ESPN Stats & Information Research)
Mallory Swanson scored her team-leading fifth of the 2023 calendar year. It is also her fourth straight game by a goal.
Swanson’s second goal of the game is the 30th of her international career. She joins Alex Morgan (120) and Megan Rapinoe (63) as the third player on the roster with at least 30.
The US women’s national team started 2023 strong with three shutout wins with a combined 11-0 (twice against New Zealand and Canada). That comes after they lost three (against England, Spain and Germany) of their last four games of 2022 and conceded goals in their last five games of the calendar year.
United States: The USWNT continues their SheBelieves Cup campaign when they take on Japan on Sunday, February 19 at 3:30pm ET.
Canada: Canada’s WNT continues the SheBelieves Cup on Sunday, February 19 when they take on Brazil at 18:30 ET.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/united-states-usaw/story/4879677/uswnt-mallory-swanson-dominates-canada-in-shebelieves-cup USWNT’s Mallory Swanson dominates Canada in SheBelieves Cup