Thursday October 22nd, 2015

SEATTLE — In salvaging a 1–1 draw with Brazil, the United States women’s team extended its record home unbeaten streak to 101 games on Wednesday. Shannon Boxx captained the team and played the first 40 minutes in her last professional match as the World Cup-winning Americans struggled to attack all night.

Brazil took an early lead as Monica headed home Andressinha’s corner kick in the third minute, beating Becky Sauerbrunn to a ball at the near post. It was the first time that the U.S. trailed since the first match of the Algarve Cup in the spring, in what was eventually a 2–1 win over Norway.

This time, the comeback came much later despite a couple good second-half chances. Carli Lloyd put home a cross from Meghan Klingenberg in the 85th minute, finishing with one touch under pressure as she made a run through the middle of the penalty area, to save the U.S. from a loss.

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Here are three quick thoughts on the game:

Brazil providing U.S.’s best test on the victory tour

Players and fans have grown accustomed to seeing the U.S. breeze through its post-World Cup games, especially with Australia dropping out of its pair of scheduled friendlies. However, Brazil offered a stern early reminder that it is still one of the top teams in the world despite a subpar World Cup.

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The Seleção pressured in a much more consistent and organized fashion than the Americans have seen since winning the tournament in Canada and put away its first real chance to take the lead. U.S. players had less time on the ball, especially in the middle, and had a hard time coping with opponents that matched their intensity and fitness level.

The U.S. has a chance to recover and make the most of its second challenge against Brazil on Sunday before returning to a much easier schedule in December. Wednesday’s match and Sunday in Orlando should give Jill Ellis a good indication of where her team stands before Olympic qualifiers early next year.

U.S. suffered from lack of ideas in attack

The U.S. racked up an impressive six offside calls in the first half-hour, through a combination of Brazil’s discipline in defense and the Americans’ one-dimensional attack. Throughout the game, trying to slip through balls to the forwards remained the first option in the top half, even when the ball went wide.

The most notable breaks in that pattern gave the U.S. its best scoring opportunities. Crystal Dunn sent a cross from near the endline to an open Alex Morgan in the middle, but her glancing header went just wide in the 12th minute, and Brazilian goalkeeper Luciana came up with a save at the near post on a similar effort from Lloyd’s cutback in the 45th.

That simple change on the angle of the cross offered a much more difficult ball to defend than the vertical balls to vertical runners that the Americans tried to play for much of the night. Finally, another cutback from Klingenberg to Lloyd led to the late equalizer.

Much like Brazil’s creative attack and stifling midfield pressure, the Seleção’s strong defensive line was a first among U.S. opponents since the World Cup. Rather than blindly following runners toward their own goal, the back four held a tight line and played the offside trap to perfection. (The U.S. also made an impressive effort at one early in the second half, on a Brazilian free kick.)

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Give Brazil credit—the Seleçao is no slouch

Brazil’s round-of-16 exit against Australia at the World Cup was one of the more surprising results of the summer, even considering the Matildas’ impressive form in Canada. Brazil only managed four goals in four games despite playing in one of the tournament’s weaker groups.

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However, this is still a team that defeated the U.S., 3–2, in December before playing to a scoreless draw a week ago at the International Tournament of Brasília. In a big push to show well at the Rio Olympics next summer, the team has also been in a full-time residency program.

It has made the most of that time, showing on Wednesday that the team is much greater than its individual abilities alone. After falling to eighth in the FIFA rankings in 2014, its lowest-ever mark, Brazil’s recent investments in its women’s program seem to be paying off ahead of a major tournament on home soil.

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