An excellent finish from Mallory Swanson was the difference in the USWNT's 1-0 SheBelieves Cup win over Japan on Sunday at GEODIS Park in Nashville. Japan caused all sorts of issues in disrupting the U.S. buildup while launching 15 shots compared to only five for the Americans.
The U.S. played with fire at the back and the midfield didn't establish any sort of dominance, but the team showed exactly what makes them so difficult to beat even when they're not at their best: an unmatched fighting spirit mixed with individuals who can provide the difference at any moment.
It's not a formula that guarantees success at the World Cup, and the narrow victory showed that Vlatko Andonovski still doesn't have it all figured out with the tournament just 150 days away.
3 players who excelled vs. Japan
The 24-year-old looks so sharp right now. Every touch is purposeful, every run is menacing and her finishing has never been better — that's six goals in four appearances this year.
The U.S. had been weathering a storm for large portions of the first half, but Swanson changed the entire complexion of things with an ice-cold finish off Alex Morgan's assist.
Six goals in four matches for @MalPugh!!! pic.twitter.com/8TGjBL9rjq
All gas, no brakes pic.twitter.com/6dAAtViAHZ
Swanson played 70 minutes before getting replaced by Megan Rapinoe.
In the face of Japan's pressure, Girma looked composed and helped to organize the U.S. defense in a way that limited genuine opportunities in areas of real danger. Japan's starting striker Riko Ueki struggled to provide a focal point to the attack for 67 minutes, and that's because Girma was always making the right decision in when to step and when to back off.
The 22-year-old is the present and the future.
Alyssa Naeher's backup didn't have a save to make until the 81st minute, but then Murphy pulled off two big stops to preserve the 1-0 victory and send 25,000+ home happy.
.@CaseyMurph keeping 'em blanked pic.twitter.com/rg9pEpYrsE
2 who didn't
Mewis was tasked with operating in an unfamiliar No. 6 role. Against a well-coordinated and ferocious Japan press, she appeared to be moving in slow-motion. Lindsey Horan dropped deeper to help out both defensively and in the build-up, which made it more difficult for the U.S. to connect the midfield with the attack and to press Japan.
It all also made for a quiet 65 minutes from Ashley Sanchez, but Mewis' performance improved when Andi Sullivan entered and brought more balance to the midfield. If we really want to criticize someone here, maybe it should be Andonovski for his starting lineup.
Huerta started at right back and struggled with and without the ball in the opening 45. She misplaced a couple passes and Japan's No. 10 Mana Iwabuchi was finding some joy down that flank. Huerta was the only halftime change from a rocky first half for the U.S., making way for Emily Sonnett who moved out left while Emily Fox shifted to right back.
The USWNT closes SheBelieves Cup play on Wednesday against Brazil. There's going to be a lot of questions surrounding this performance, so the U.S. needs to finish with its best game of the tournament.