Excellent opponents and exciting games, that was the 2017 Tournament of Nations as U.S. WNT head coach Jill Ellis continued her evaluation of players as she goes through the process of building the team towards 2019.
Some notables from the inaugural tournament:
- Defender Taylor Smith earned her first three caps and two starts.
- She picked up her first two assists against Japan in the finale.
- Megan Rapinoe earned her first 90-minute game since 2015, and her first start since Aug. 9, 2016.
- She also scored her first WNT goals since the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
- Ellis gave minutes to 18 of the 20 field players on the roster.
- Alyssa Naeher played every minute of all three games in goal for the USA.
- Allie Long started at defensive midfielder against Australia, followed by Becky Sauerbrunn playing in that slot against Brazil, and then Julie Ertz against Japan.
- Ellis used all six of her substitutions in all three matches.
- The USA had six different scorers during the tournament: Samantha Mewis, Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh and Julie Ertz.
- The USA scored three goals in nine minutes during a comeback to defeat Brazil 4-3.
- Kelley O’Hara played in her 99th game for the USA and could become the 36th American fe
male player to reach 100 caps.
Megan Rapinoe scored two goals and had two assists during the 2017 Tournament of Nations.
The USA finished the tournament in second place following a loss to Australia, a thrilling 4-3 comeback win against Brazil, and a 3-0 shutout victory against Japan. While Australia played excellent attacking soccer in all three games and lifted the trophy with three victories, including its first against the USA, what the U.S. did achieve was the continuing evolution of the team and the deepening of the player pool. Now, Ellis is ready to take the next steps.
“Now it’s about building connections,” Ellis said after the Japan match. “I know what I’ve put the players through in terms of making it a challenge and playing them in different positions, playing them with different people. I get that. It’s a long run up to 2019 but I want to do that now. Look at Australia, they are a seasoned team because they’ve been together so long that they know each other so well. That’s the next step in our process; establishing our starting lineup and working on our chemistry and connections and our team play.”
The U.S. WNT is set to play six more games this year in the fall against three opponents to wrap up 2017. It will face New Zealand twice in September, another pair of soon-to-be-announced friendlies in October, and will end its 2017 campaign with two matches against Canada, on Nov. 9 in Vancouver, and on Nov. 12 in a U.S. venue which will also be announced soon.Read more
In the last year, U.S. WNT midfielder Samantha Mewis has seen her role shift and evolve. She first broke into the team on a more consistent basis in the latter part of 2015, but it wasn’t until late in 2016 that she began to feature more prominently in the starting lineup.
In 2017, she has started all nine games the USA has played this year and has been on the field for 773 minutes, second-most on the team behind Becky Sauerbrunn’s 810 minutes, while becoming an important part of the USA’s midfield dynamic.
Despite the confidence the coaching staff has placed in her, the six-foot Massachusetts native – the tallest field player ever to play for the USA -- knows it would be unwise to ever allow herself to get comfortable on the U.S. team as the competition to earn, keep, or regain a starting role never ceases.
“Every day is a new challenge here,” Mewis said of the WNT environment. “I’m still trying to just absorb as much as I can and grow as a player and as a person. It’s always an honor to play on this team but I don’t expect anything. Every day is a new day and every game is a new game, so each time we come in here we have to earn something and we have to fight for something, and that’s what makes this team so special.”
Besides her acumen in the center of the field, her savvy passing skills and ball-winning abilities in the air and on the ground, she can also score. Against Brazil on July 30, Mewis scored her first goal of 2017, and the fifth of her career, with a grass-cutter from just outside the penalty area to even the match at 1-1 in the 18th minute.Read more
The U.S. Women’s National Team came back from two goals down to defeat Brazil on July 30 at Qualcomm Stadium with a remarkable rally at the end of the match that saw four players score in the 4-3 victory: Samantha Mewis, Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz. While both Mewis and Rapinoe were in the starting XI, Press and Ertz both came on as second half substitutes in the 57th minute.
Mewis’s goal was the game-tying score (the first of two in the game) in the 18th minute. Megan Rapinoe played a square pass into the middle came towards the on-rushing Mewis, who then hit a grass-cutter from 28 yards that took a slight deflection before sticking in the left corner of the net. The goal was the fifth of her career and first of 2017. She has been in the starting lineup for every game the USA has played this year and has contested the most minutes of anyone besides co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn.
Her second goal of 2017, Press’ score switched the momentum of the match. Scoring two minutes after Brazil had made it 3-1, Press’ spectacular finish from the left side of the penalty area into the upper left corner brought the WNT back into a game.
“To get goals against Brazil means a lot to me because it shows that it doesn’t matter who we’re playing against, we can break defenses and get goals into the back of the net,” said Press.
Press, who has scored eight goals so far this NWSL season, has looked sharp for both club and country.
“Press had a great finish,” said Ellis after the Brazil match. “She got the match-winner overseas against Norway, [and then scored against Brazil] so those are big goals for her, and I think she’s been very consistent in the league.”
It’s been a long journey back for Megan Rapinoe following her ACL surgery in December of 2015, but her performances against Australia, and especially against Brazil, bode well for the USA going forward.
“I felt like we had momentum as soon as Press scored that goal,” said Rapinoe. “It was an incredible turn and ball by her to get it to my foot. I took it down and I didn’t have a great angle but I just thought, ‘I’ll smashed this thing.’”
The technical midfielder was involved in all four goals, getting two assists as well as the equalizer and also played a part in the sequence that led to the game-winner.
“She’s worked so hard to be back to this,” said Ellis of Rapinoe. “From her performance in the league, she’s been building momentum. Against Australia she was fantastic and against Brazil she just drives an engine.”
Rapinoe has also been lighting it up in the NWSL, scoring a league-leading 12 goals so far for Seattle.
Ertz is the highest-scoring defender on the USA’s roster and she put the cherry on top of an unforgettable night for the WNT in San Diego with her game-winner in the 89th minute, blasting a loose ball into the net from six-yards out to send the Qualcomm crowd into a frenzy. It was her ninth career goal, but the first with a married name on the back of her jersey.
Sunday night’s epic comeback against Brazil at the 2017 Tournament of Nations in San Diego was vintage U.S. WNT. The “do not count us out” mentality that the team has shown throughout the years was evident once again on the glistening pitch at Qualcomm Stadium.
More recently, the USA came back from allowing two early goals to France in the opening game of the 2012 Olympics to tie the game going into the at half and then won 4-2. In the semifinal of that tournament, the USA played an unforgettable match with Canada, coming back from a goal down three times to tie it and then won it on a 123rd-minute header from Alex Morgan that is still the latest goal scored in FIFA history.
Then of course, there are the games against Brazil.
In 2004, Abby Wambach clinched the Olympic gold medal against Brazil with a game-winning header in overtime off a corner kick from Kristine Lilly. In 2008, Carli Lloyd did the same, also against Brazil, scoring a dramatic overtime strike. In 2011, Wambach netted a game-tying goal against Brazil, her spectacular and famous header, in the 122nd minute to send the World Cup quarterfinal game to penalty kicks – which the USA eventually won. Fast forward to 2017, and a wild game once again ensued between two perennial powers in women’s soccer, this time on U.S. soil.
The USA rallied to score three goals in nine minutes at the end of the match and earn a 4-3 win against Brazil after being down 3-1 with 12 minutes to go in the game.
“We talked about the energy and the attitude coming into this game,” head coach Jill Ellis said following the thriller. “It was the classic will of this program in terms of gutting it out and the never-say-die kind of attitude. And now all these young players have experienced it too and that’s a massive takeaway for us.”
With the momentum in Brazil’s favor after scoring off a free kick in the 78th minute to extend its lead to 3-1, the WNT had little time to mount a response, but there was enough to get it done.
“It was really important for us as a group tonight to just refuse to lose tonight and take back the momentum whatever way we could,” Christen Press, who started the comeback with her goal in the 80th minute.
Press’ goal came off a beautiful slipped pass from Megan Rapinoe into the left side of the penalty area that the Chicago Red Stars forward finished fantastically into the upper left corner. Five minutes later Press repaid the favor, sent a ball across the field into the left side of the penalty area. In one motion, Rapinoe brought the ball down and smashed it home from an almost impossibly difficult angle. Four minutes after that it was Julie Ertz who scored the game-winner to send the crowd of 21,096 fans at Qualcomm Stadium into a frenzy.
“I came on when it was 1-1,” Press said. “The we took two goals and we were down 3-1 and we just felt that we had our back against the wall. And that’s when you shoot the most free, when you have nothing to lose. I’ve watched this team on the bench and from home comeback so many times in big games and it was cool to be a part of that. It was cool to feel like an important player in that.”
Another impactful piece on Sunday’s U.S. WNT comeback was Megan Rapinoe, who had two assists and a goal – her first with the WNT since she scored a brace against Australia on June 8, 2015 in Winnipeg at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“Megan has been building and building,” Ellis said following the game. “She’s worked so hard to get back to this. There’s a quality to her, and a strength and a power to her that’s very impressive. She’s always going to bring the technical piece but she has a big engine.”
A new chapter was written on the USA-Brazil rivalry on Sunday night at Qualcomm Stadium. And while the USA is no stranger to epic comebacks, this one will hold a special place in U.S. WNT lore.
“The history of this team is, no matter what, you always have to find a way,” said U.S. captain Carli Lloyd.
That way this time has set the stage for an exciting conclusion to the Tournament of the Nations on Aug. 3 at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. In order to win the tournament, the USA would need Brazil to beat an Australian team that is running on all cylinders, and then the USA needs to defeat Japan while overturning three scores in overall goal difference.
Another game, another chance to find a way.Read more