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USWNT wins SheBelieves Cup in nervy penalty shootout with Canada
United States

USWNT wins SheBelieves Cup in nervy penalty shootout with Canada

Updated Apr. 9, 2024 11:38 p.m. ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Again, it came down to penalty kicks.

The United States women's national team beat Canada in a penalty shootout to win its record seventh SheBelieves Cup trophy on Tuesday night. While this might have brought back some stressful memories — the last time these teams met just 35 days ago in the Concacaf W Gold Cup semifinal the USWNT won in penalties, too — the squad can breathe easy now.

The U.S. made things interesting, to say the least. Canada led 1-0 at halftime, but after some savvy second half adjustments made by interim head coach Twila Kilgore, the USWNT roared back to take a 2-1 lead. It wasn't until a questionable foul by Crystal Dunn in the 86th minute, which led to a Canada penalty kick, leveled the game once again and ultimately, forced the penalty shootout.

With this victory, the USWNT has now showed resilience as a response to adversity and won consecutive championships — the Gold Cup and SheBelieves Cup — in the last month. While these trophies don't make up for a disappointing World Cup last summer, it's an important step as the team looks ahead to Emma Hayes' arrival and this summer's Paris Olympics.


"It just shows how much growth we’ve made since the World Cup," Sophia Smith said. "I think Twila has done a really good job of balancing a tough position in helping us move on from the World Cup, take the lessons that we needed, but at the same time, start a new chapter and start fresh. And I think we’re doing such a good job building off of that. 

"I think our chemistry on and off the field, you can see it in every game we play, we’re getting better and better and getting the results we want. We’ve had to fight back from being down two times now, and I think that shows a lot about the mentality of this group. Every game is not going to start exactly how we want, but it’s how we finish it. And we finished our games very well and with confidence and I think that’s a really exciting thing."

Here are takeaways from the match:

Play of the game

Kilgore's second half adjustments.

The USWNT struggled to get into a rhythm in the first half — it only had three shot attempts and conceded a goal to Canada in the 40th minute to go down 1-0 at the half. 

At the break, Kilgore subbed on Mallory Swanson — who made her valiant return to the squad last match after being out for a year with a knee injury — and took off Sam Coffey. Captain Lindsey Horan slid down lower in the midfield to play alongside Emily Sonnett, and Jaedyn Shaw moved to the No. 10, which is where she starred in the USWNT's win over Japan on Saturday.

With Swanson in, the U.S. was quickly on the attack and Smith scored an equalizer in the 50th minute, a left-footed shot from distance. 

"I think she took on a few players in order to create that scenario," Kilgore said of Smith, who was named the tournament's MVP after the match. "Just being a special player in a special moment within our team concept is really important."

In the 64th minute, Trinity Rodman came on for Alex Morgan, creating a front line of Rodman, Smith and Swanson, with Shaw playing underneath. A few minutes later, Smith scored her second goal after a strong buildup through the midfield from Horan, Shaw and Rodman, who beat a defender before slipping a pass to Smith, who found the back of the net for the game-winning goal. 

"I felt like there were ebbs and flows of the game," Morgan said. "I thought that a lot of times, our positioning didn't break down Canada easily at times. But we got a lot of chances and looks at goal, and I think our transition and quick turning in the pocket an playing through behind their back line was really what broke the lock.

"Obviously the game changers came on – we call game changers the subs – came on and did so well. I mean, just look at our bench, just the depth that we have with this team and the fact that all of the forwards are so interchangeable. Jae coming and being a winger and then coming in as a 10 and Mal as well. It was really great to see players coming in and being able to change formation or position so fluidly."

Turning point

Late in the game, Dunn was called for a foul on Canada's Adriana Leon in the box. While it was a questionable foul, Canada was awarded a penalty kick. Leon converted from the spot to equalize and force a penalty shootout (there was no extra time).

Naeher, whose penalty kick heroics have been well-documented by this point, was once again totally clutch. After saving a PK, she took the ball, walked to the spot as the USWNT's dedicated third shooter, and nonchalantly buried her PK. Then she returned to her spot on the line and made another save.

With the shootout going back and forth, it was up to Emily Fox as the seventh shooter to win it for the U.S. 

And that's what she did.

Key stat

Naeher has not lost a penalty shootout since that fateful night in Melbourne, Australia when the USWNT lost to Sweden in the round of 16 of the World Cup.

What's next for the USWNT?

The Emma Hayes era is coming. The next time the USWNT convenes for matches against Korea Republic on June 1 and June 4, Hayes will be there in person as the manager. 

It's certainly been a unique six to eight months for the team. After a historically early exit from the World Cup last summer, U.S. Soccer made swift changes by hiring Hayes in November after parting ways with Vlatko Andonvoski in August. Hayes' hiring was confirmed on the condition that she would finish her season with Chelsea, which does not end until May. The Blues will play Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals later this month.

In the interim, Twila Kilgore has served as the USWNT's head coach (and will later become an assistant on Hayes' full-time staff). Despite the time difference being on separate continents, Kilgore has been in frequent communication with Hayes and has visited with her in London, as the two have collaborated on rosters, lineups, tactics, etc. Players have said that while they've enjoyed working with Kilgore and are excited for Hayes to be with the team full time, the transition has been challenging. Especially with the Paris Olympics looming and only 18 roster spots available. 

"I think we all know that nothing is guaranteed as a new coach comes in," center back Tierna Davidson told reporters this week. "So I think everyone is just trying to put their best foot forward, but also understanding that it is an unorthodox time for both us as players and the coaching staff, the technical staff as a whole. So just allowing a little bit of praise for that is important during this time."

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of "Strong Like a Woman," published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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