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USWNT holds off England to win the 2018 SheBelieves Cup

It was hardly a vintage performance, but the United States did enough to finish atop the tournament table

The United States did just enough to defeat England tonight, winning 1-0 on a Millie Bright own goal in the second half to take the 2018 SheBelieves Cup. The USWNT entered the game needing a win in Orlando to win the friendly tournament, and more or less deserved their victory. However, a late choice to go into a defensive shell invited English pressure, with Ellen White’s header hitting the post in the 86th minute.

Jill Ellis, facing a third game in a week and with several players injured, fielded a fairly surprising lineup. Emily Sonnett, normally a center back, started at right back, while attacker Crystal Dunn got the nod at left back. Allie Long and Carli Lloyd joined the midfield trio in the 433 that appears to be the USWNT’s choice going forward. The front three, however, was unchanged, with the Washington Spirit’s Mallory Pugh joining Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe once again.

Before kickoff, both teams gathered at midfield as a moment of silence was held to honor the victims of the terrible school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in nearby Parkland, FL.

England, deploying a low-block 4231, largely held the U.S. at bay during the first half. While the Americans used a high press to put the Three Lionesses into some uncomfortable situations, there were precious few opportunities until the final moments of the half. However, after the 40th minute, the USWNT saw Lindsey Horan nearly get in alone on goal, before a cross from Rapinoe caused chaos inside the area. Finally, and most notably, Pugh’s 45th minute dribbling run past four players across the top of the box ended with her left-footed bid for the upper corner missing just a foot wide.

Pugh continued being dangerous in the early moments of the second half, with Abby Dahlkemper’s precise long ball sending her dashing past England’s Demi Stokes. Pugh caught up to the pass and had to fire from an angle, forcing Karen Bardsley into a tricky save. Horan nearly followed up on the rebound, but England managed to sweep the ball out for a corner instead.

The American pressure was starting to tell, with Bardsley’s bad pass out of the back being compounded by a poor touch from Abbie McManus. Lloyd poked the ball free, and Horan slipped a pass to Rapinoe as Morgan — who was offside — wisely took herself out of the play. Rapinoe opted for a powerful strike at the near post, which Bardsley did just enough to stop.

England offered their first attempted shot of the game in the 57th minute, an effort from Toni Duggan which flashed across the face of goal and wide. The U.S. response was swift, as they took the lead one minute later. Rapinoe, in a pocket of space on the left flank, drove a cross towards goal. The ball struck McManus, though, and appeared headed straight to Bardsley for an easy claim. However, a miscommunication between Bardsley and center back Millie Bright saw Bright attempt to intervene, which ended up guiding the ball straight into the England goal.

England started to open up in pursuit of an equalizer, with substitute Nikita Parris looking like a frequent target. However, the next good chance fell to the U.S., with a quick free kick catching the visitors off-guard. Dunn had the ball in space, but her pinpoint cross to Horan at the back post was nodded wide by the Portland Thorns midfielder.

Ellis, opting to protect a lead in a tournament that she is treating as a rehearsal for future competitive situations, moved the USWNT into a 541 with a pair of 74th minute substitutions, with Sofia Huerta coming in as a right wingback and Morgan Brian stepping in for Allie Long. Emily Sonnett moved into the middle of the American defensive line as a result of the shuffle.

However, the move backfired a bit, as England shook off their clearly tiring legs to tilt the game in their favor. An 86th minute rehearsed free kick from the right flank fooled the American defense, with Ellen White getting a free header inside the six yard box. White should have leveled the score, but nodded the ball against the post. Alyssa Naeher was stranded, but with England having runners lurking, Tierna Davidson did just enough to get the ball away from danger.

The USWNT had to sweat out the final stages, but ultimately hung on to take the 1-0 victory and emerge as the SheBelieves Cup winner, a year after finishing in last in the same event.

Highlights will be added when they become available.