A goal by Tobin Heath on her return to the national team earned the USA women a hard-fought 2-1 defeat of China Tuesday. Heath’s goal separated teams tied at 1-1 on a first-half goal by Megan Rapinoe and equalizer tallied by Li Ying just four minutes prior to Heath’s winner.
1. Led by Press, lineup changes energized the U.S. attack
Coach Jill Ellis made five changes to the starting XI that labored to beat China, 1-0, on Saturday in the teams’ first of two meetings. Christian Press rose to the occasion of her 100th cap. She took over at right wing for Savannah McCaskill, who had been subbed at halftime on Saturday, and drove past the Chinese numerous times to serve balls and launch crosses that created several chances before a perfect ball arced for Megan Rapinoe to head home in the 33rd minute.
Samantha Mewis and Morgan Brian lined up in midfield with Julie Ertz, and all three players swarmed their Chinese counterparts to win balls and set attacks in motion. Ertz scored a goal disallowed for offside on the rebound of an Alex Morgan shot and nearly got onto a through ball that forced Chinese keeper Peng Shimeng to collect the ball at her feet.
Ertz and Rapinoe blazed shots off-target after excellent serves from Press, who also set up the winner for Heath by playing the ball forward to her and in controlling the return pass appeared to knock it down with her arm. Heath reacted quickest and with a right-footed swing clipped the ball over the stranded Chinese goalie and into the net.
Sofia Huerta started at right back after playing a solid game Saturday as a halftime sub and Ashlyn Harris got the start in goal.
2. Heath goal rewards up-tempo response to first game
Heath hadn’t played for the USA since last September because of a string of injuries, one of which required ankle surgery in January. Since rejoining her club team, Portland Thorns, in April, she’d scored one goal and logged two assists in seven games.
Her mix of athleticism, skill, and speed has been missed and the lack of those elements was glaring in the first game against China. Only Rapinoe and Crystal Dunn were dangerous on the flanks and the PCL injury that will sideline Mallory Pugh for 8-10 weeks will require other players to add those elements. A healthy Heath will be essential when the USA meets Brazil, Japan, and Australia in the Tournament of Nations this summer.
Mewis’ box-to-box work and the wide play of Rapinoe and Press opened up gaps that had seldom appeared in the first game against China, which had sat back and rarely pushed forward. China was more aggressive in the second game and the Americans took advantage of the space through faster combination play and earlier runs into the attacking third.
The games against China marked the returns of several prominent players to the team: Ertz, Heath, Mewis and Rose Lavelle, who replaced Mewis in the 65th minute. Ertz missed the games against Mexico in April and the other three had not played for the U.S. since last year, so the problems of miscommunication and disjointed play can be blamed in part on veterans coming back into the fold. Still, during the two games turnovers and unforced errors marred the U.S. play, particularly in the middle third.
3. Good and bad at the back: defenders mixup, goalie save
China scored from the flick-on of a long ball to Lou Jiahui that was challenged in the air by centerbacks Tiera Davidson and Becky Sauerbrunn, and when neither could win it Li Tingting raced in behind them with only Dunn to defend a two-on-one. Li centered it behind Dunn and across the goalmouth for Li Ying to tap into the net as she slid.
Davidson had just been cautioned for committing a midfield foul to stop a counterattack. For much of the game she had looked less secure than she had in the first game, when a confident back line thwarted the few attacking sequences China had mustered.
Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris had no chance to prevent the goal, and the singed Americans hadn’t yet recovered when a couple of minutes later a foul gave China a free kick about 25 yards out in the right channel. Wang Shuang struck it well with her left foot and as it curved toward the top near corner Harris sailed high to claw it out from under the crossbar with both hands. The rebound dropped just a few yards from the goal line but the Americans managed to scramble the ball to safety and with their next possession nailed the winner through Heath.
In her first start this year Harris' performance will help her cause in the battle with Alyssa Naeher for the starting job.
June 12 in Cleveland,
USA 2 China 1. Goals: Rapinoe (Press) 35, Heath (Press) 75; Li Ying (Li Tingting) 72.
USA -- Harris; Huerta (Mathias, 77), Sauerbrunn, Davidson, Dunn; Ertz (Horan, 57), Mewis (Lavelle, 65), Brian (Long, 46); Press, Morgan (Heath, 64), Rapinoe (Lloyd, 57).
China -- Peng Shimeng; Wu Haiyan, Lin Yuping, Wang Shuang, Li Ying, Wang Shanshan (Xiao Yuyi, 66), Yan Jinjin (Li Tingting, 59), Han Peng, Ren Guixin (Wang Yan, 66), Lou Jiahui, Yao Wei.
Referee: Christina Unkel (USA)
Shots on Goal: 5/6
Corner Kicks: 4/0
Yellow cards: USA - Davidson 69; China - Han Peng 78.
Red cards -- none.