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  • Isa Almeida

2024 SheBelieves Cup Roundup

On April 8, 2023, USWNT forward Mallory Swanson tore her left patella tendon. Her teammate Catarina Macario tore her ACL on the last day of the 2021-22 season for her former club Lyon. And on April 6, the pair returned to the field wearing the United States crest for the first time since their injuries in front of 50,644 person crowd in the opening match of this year's SheBelieves Cup.

“I could not believe it,” Macario said. “It’s been so long and I was just thinking ‘Enjoy, have fun and do the work that’s needed to keep the line, to keep us in the game. I was really grateful—definitely an emotional moment.”

The game did not start as planned for the U.S. Seconds after kickoff, Kiko Seike found the back of the net for Japan. 

“After the goal, we were way too passive and made some mistakes,” Japan Head Coach Futoshi Ikeda said. “Possession of the ball is one thing, but it’s more about building from the defensive area. We tried, but we got a little too anxious from time to time. To play through the high press of the U.S., we needed to do something different. 

The four-time World Champions took advantage of this passiveness. Just 20 minutes after the opening goal, Jaedyn Shaw equalized for the United States. At age 19, Shaw became the youngest player to score a goal in each of her first five starts, joining a list of game legends such as Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Alex Morgan and Christen Press. Japan goalkeeper Ayaka Yamashita could only freeze and watch as the ball went in. 

“[Shaw] did an exceptional job,” said Twila Kilgore, USWNT interim head coach. “I just want to point out that not only did she score a brilliant goal, and not only was she part of a lot of very effective build-up, but she did a great job defensively.”

With the new knockout format of the SheBelieves Cup, a tied game after regulation would go straight to a penalty shootout. And that is precisely what the game’s fate looked like until the 77th minute when a penalty, ironically, saved the Americans from extra play. Lindsey Horan converted the kick and put her team in the lead for the first time. The game ended 2-1 for the U.S.

The 77-minute mark was also a game-changer in the second matchup of the game between Brazil and Canada. In the 22nd minute, Tarciane converted a penalty kick putting Brazil in the lead. While goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan dove the right way, it wasn’t enough to stop her from scoring. 

The Brazilians held the lead up until Vanessa Gilles got the equalizer with only 13 minutes left. Both teams fought for a winner, but neither managed to score again. What the U.S. and Japan had escaped was happening to Brazil and Canada.

Canada was up first. Miss. It was an opportunity for Brazil to get the lead in the shootout. Miss. It was all even going into the second kick. Adriana Leon stepped up and scored. Cristiane stepped up and scored. Still even. Jade Rose, score. Antônia, miss. Canada had the lead for the first time in the shootout. Brazil was still in the game with Tarciane scoring another penalty after Canada’s Simi Awujo made it 3-1, but all the Canadians needed was Julia Grosso to score hers. And she did, advancing Canada to the finals. 

The second rounds were set for three days later. Brazil and Japan were fighting for third place, while Canada and the United States secured a spot in the championship.

In the third place match, Japan once again took the lead as Mina Tanaka got through Brazilian goalkeeper Lorena in the 35th minute. However, it’s safe to say Lorena made sure that was the only ball to hit her net. When Tanaka stepped up to take a penalty and put Japan two goals up in the 66th minute, the Brazilian goalkeeper guessed correctly and saved her first penalty of the night. 

Only five minutes after the key save, veteran Cristiane leveled the game for Brazil. With neither team being able to score again, the Brazilians were destined for another penalty shootout. While the last one hadn’t gone their way, the story would be different against Japan.

Lorena, who in addition to the penalty save had great defenses throughout the game, was ready for more, saving all three attempts from Japan. To make the shootout 3-0, Cristiane, Tarciane and Angelina all converted their kicks to give Brazil the bronze medal nearly a month after their runner-up performance in the W Gold Cup.

Not long after the third place dispute wrapped up, the final kicked off, and it was a tale of two players. With a scoreless game up until the last minutes of the first half, Adriana Leon finally put Canada in front. Unfortunately for the Canadians, the lead only lasted 10 minutes. Five minutes into the second half, Sophia Smith made it anyone’s game off a Jaedyn Shaw assist. And 18 minutes later, a Trinity Rodman pass to Smith put the United States up a goal for the first time.

“The first goal’s just class,” Kilgore said. “Sometimes individuals just do special things.”

It seemed like a won game for the Americans, but in the 86th minute, a controversial penalty was given to Canada after Leon fell in the box. It was she who stepped in to take the kick. 2-2. 

The SheBelieves Cup would be decided by a penalty shootout, and in true Alyssa Naeher fashion, the hosts lifted the trophy. Though Trinity Rodman missed the first penalty for the U.S., Naeher would go on to not only save three but also score one. While this was the seventh SheBelives Cup title the United States has captured since the tournament's induction, questions still remain about their potential to carry over these winning habits into the Olympics this summer.


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