USWNT wins SheBelieves Cup after beating Canada in penalty kicks

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Sophia Smith scored a brace as the USWNT defeated Canada.

The USWNT faced danger against Canada after trailing 2-1 in penalty kicks, but goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher would not let them lose.

She stopped a penalty, scored one and stopped another. It was a turning point during the shootout en route to a SheBelieves Cup victory, 2-2 (5-4).

Much like Naeher’s score and saves in the shootout, halftime was a pivotal moment for the USWNT in a final that was a tale of two halves. 

The USWNT failed to create quality opportunities in the first half despite controlling the ball as Canada took a 1-0 lead.

However, a halftime substitution that brought forward Mallory Swanson paid off quickly. The change allowed Jaedyn Shaw to move from the wing and Lindsey Horan to join the double pivot alongside Emily Sonnett.

“Once we sorted out after halftime where our pocket players were and making sure that we consistently had players in the pocket, the game changed for us,” said Twila Kilgore, who was in her last game as USWNT interim coach. “That comes down to creating our shape as quickly as possible and being dynamic in it.”

The USWNT started the second half with a bang, equalizing in the 50th minute. It was a moment of brilliance from Sophia Smith after receiving a pass from Shaw as she created a window to shoot and delivered an outstanding finish.

Smith scored again in the 68th minute, giving the USWNT a 2-1 lead.

“The second goal was an amazing team goal,” Kilgore said. “Two passes forwards is exactly what we talked about at halftime, finding somebody in the pocket and playing forward.

“It was [Trinity Rodman] who slipped the ball and respected the runner. [Sophia Smith] was running hard and those are not easy to finish. It shows a little bit of synergy between Trin and Soph, who have not played that close together recently.”

Despite the USWNT’s second-half success, Canada forward Adriana Leon tied the match at 2-2 in the 86th minute with her second goal of the game.

Naeher made three saves in the penalty shootout as the USWNT won in sudden death. Defender Emily Fox scored the winning penalty kick. 

“It is incredible,” said Kilgore on Naher’s shootout performance.” Nerves of steel, getting it done.”

Smith was named SheBelieves Cup Most Valuable Player. She shined in the tournament with excellent defensive work in the first match and a brace in the second. 

The win gave the USWNT their fifth straight Believes Cup win and seventh overall. Emma Hayes takes over as coach ahead of the international window when the USWNT plays South Korea leading into the Paris Olympics.

“We are ready for the next phase,” Kilgore said. “We are ready and excited for the Olympics. Uncertainty is hard, and all the credit to the players.”