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USWNT downs tepid Germany 1-0 in SheBelieves Cup

A Lynn Williams goal proved the difference on a windy night outside Philadelphia

Amid questions about a new formation’s ability to work against the world’s best teams, the United States rather comfortably held off Germany, winning 1-0 on a Lynn Williams goal in the 56th minute at Talen Energy Stadium. After a lukewarm first half saw both sides easily cancel one another out, the USWNT picked their game up after halftime and earned their victory.

Tonight was the first time Jill Ellis used a 3-5-2 against a top team and it had mixed results. While the U.S. held a world-class team to a shutout, Germany created many of their own problems. At best, the system allowed the USWNT to press Germany to the point of exhaustion and turnovers. Yet particularly in the first half, the U.S. failed to be aggressive enough to force many turnovers. Jill Ellis’ continued use of career midfielder Allie Long as a center back remains a puzzling choice.

The U.S. started the game off slow and the team struggled to maintain the 3-back formation while also aggressively pressing Germany’s defense. When Germany stayed compact and organized, it prevented any semblance of a USWNT attack. Without aggressive pressing, the U.S. was unable to force enough turnovers to compensate for their own lack of creativity going forward. When the US did gain the ball high up the field, they often bungled the opportunities. Germany’s best chances came from fast breaks and USWNT turnovers, but the U.S. succeeded at limiting those moments.

Over time, the U.S. grew more aggressive and their pressure eventually wore down Germany, setting up a stronger second half. The U.S. improved many of early issues and started to dominate the game against a tired Germany.

Two bright spots were Crystal Dunn and Casey Short. Short helped create attacks down the flanks and her hard work helped compensate for gaps further up the field. Dunn was creative and provided a spark to an uninspiring offense.

Germany broke through in the 12th minute but was stopped by a fantastic save from goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Isabel Kerschowski switched the ball from the left wing to Sara Däbritz in the center who shot from the top of the box. Naeher made a fast save to her left to block Däbritz’s attempt.

At the end of the first half, the U.S. earned a free kick in a dangerous spot and then received another attempt due to encroachment from the German wall. Neither of Lloyd’s attempts were particularly threatening.

The USWNT opened the second half with much stronger pressure and ability to force turnovers. Naeher made a save a few minutes into the half but Germany wasn’t able to get many dangerous chances. Germany also starting switching to a 4-1-3-2 instead of a 4-4-2 but still lacked a focal point up top.

Lloyd fed a great ball to Williams in the 50th minute following a turnover, but Williams lost control at the crucial moment, ruining the opportunity.

She wouldn’t make the same mistake with her next chance. In the 56th minute, Press made a great run up the flank and cut into the center, but her curling shot clanged off the crossbar. The ball bounced out to Heath, whose shot was blocked by Kerschowski and bobbled its way to Williams, who despite being slightly off-balance pushed her low shot past two defenders and in, wrong-footing Almuth Schult.

Later on, Williams - whose speed and strength troubled the tiring German defense throughout the second half had another dangerous chance. It started with her own hard work, picking up a pass from Becky Sauerbrunn before turning a defender, bursting away, powering past a challenge, and sprinting into the area all alone. At the moment of truth, however, she fired well over Schult’s goal, a disappointing end to an impressive attack.

Lloyd, playing not far from her hometown in south New Jersey, had a late chance to pad the lead. Substitute Alex Morgan’s pass put her into a favorable position on the left side of the box, but she turned down a small window to shoot. While her stepover left Babett Peter frozen, it also left her with too acute an angle to do much but shoot low and hope. Schult anticipated that, though, and blocked the effort with her feet.

Earlier in the day, France beat England 2-1 with two late goals, so France and the U.S. are currently level in the SheBelieves Cup standings. This Saturday, the USWNT will play England at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. 20-year veteran defender Christie Rampone will be honored before the game. On Tuesday, the USWNT will face France at RFK Stadium, a venue in which they are a perfect 9-0-0 all-time.