Dunns 72nd-minute winner lifts United States past resolute England side
In their toughest test since the Womens World Cup last summer, Englands Lionesses held the world No1 USA scoreless for much of their opening SheBelieves Cup fixture on Thursday night. But the Americans, fresh off an easy Olympic qualifying campaign, found their footing late on a Crystal Dunn goal to win 1-0 in Tampa, Florida.
The Lionesses threw numbers around the ball in a high, physical press and successfully stymied the Americans from meaningful chances for 72 minutes, but a flash of individual brilliance from second-half substitute Dunn turned the tide quickly.
Dunn took a clever spin around defender Steph Houghton and fired from the middle of the box, sending a laser shot into the upper far post corner and over the outreached arms of goalkeeper Karen Bardsley. Dunn, who had somewhat controversially been left off coach Jill Ellis roster for the Womens World Cup, has scored 11 goals in 14 appearances since.
We knew coming in that theyre a hard-working team and for us it was about riding the waves, Dunn said. We had really great moments in the game where they were a little bit tired and we were pinging the ball around. It was only a matter of time before we were going to get a chance.
For England, the best chance of the match came in the 60th minute as Houghton forced a turnover and Toni Duggan broke behind the American back line with an open Jodie Taylor sprinting across the box. Duggan opted to shoot herself instead of giving Taylor the tap-in and goalkeeper Hope Solo made the easy catch.
The odds were heavily stacked against the Lionesses coming into Thursday. In four previous meetings on US soil, the Americans won each time, compiling a 20-0 goal advantage. The Americans were also in-form having just finished Concacaf Olympic qualifying less than two weeks ago while England hasnt played together since November.
But England surprised many with their defensive shape and relentless pressure, visibly frustrating the Americans, who havent faced a top world team since the Womens World Cup.
Were satisfied with the performance, but disappointed with the result, England manager Mark Sampson said. It took an incredible goal from a US substitute with incredible ability to cost us this game. So were disappointed because we really believed we could come in and win.
The US barely had the edge in shots, seven to six, and in shots on goal, three to two.
This is exactly what we need, these tight games, Ellis said. Theyre a very physical team and tonight we took a few knocks, but well come through it.
With the USA already qualified for this summers Olympics, the SheBelieves Cup serves as their toughest test before Ellis must name her 18-woman roster before heading to Rio. The week-long tournament includes four of the top five teams in the world: No1-ranked USA, No2 Germany, No3 France and No5 England.
Of the US squad that won the Womens World Cup last year, four have retired (Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday, Shannon Boxx and Lori Chalupny), two are pregnant (Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez) and one is injured (Megan Rapinoe). That has created a batch of openings that Ellis has filled up young up-and-comers, like 17-year-old Mallory Pugh, who was arguably the best American on the pitch Thursday night until Dunns arrival.
Sampson went into the SheBelieves Cup calling it one of the teams biggest challenges ever and he added: This is by far and away not a friendly tournament.
He brought a full-strength roster to the US with 19 of the 23 players who helped the team achieve a historic third-place finish at the Womens World Cup. The SheBelieves Cup is their first tournament since Canada. England is not eligible for the Olympics because the event calls for a united team from Great Britain, but are in the midst of qualifying for next years Euro Cup, which they are expected to do comfortably.
But the former Bristol Academy coach also used the tournament as an opportunity to test some new waters, giving Chelsea defender Gilly Flaherty a surprise start and pushing defender Demi Stokes up into a midfield role.
The SheBelieves Cup continues on Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee, where the USA will face France and England will face Germany. Earlier on Thursday, Germany eked past France, 1-0.
Sampson said his side will be ready to face Germany in a rematch from this summers World Cup third-place game.
The players will be ready theyre really angry in the changing room, Sampson said. They felt we shouldve gotten something out of this game. Its great for us to come into the home of the World Champions and Ive got to say the crowd were awesome, its such a good atmosphere, but were really peed off weve lost, so were going to bounce back.