The quest for the U.S. women's national soccer team's fourth SheBelieves trophy got off to a rocky start Thursday evening (18 February) as the team was tested more than it had been since the 2019 World Cup.
In the end, the USA were victorious over Canada 1-0 in their opening game of the tournament.
There were no such troubles for Brazil, who beat South American rivals Argentina 4-1, with Marta scoring her 109th international goal in the process.
The Argentinians weren't helped by having four players ruled out due to coronavirus protocols.
USWNT struggle to win over Canada
The U.S.'s lone goal in their win over Canada came from a free kick and the right foot of Rose Lavelle in the 79th minute.
It wasn't the kind of complete performance fans had been hoping for, but they did enough to deserve the win.
"That's the story of the United States, when they're not perfect, when they can't find the back of the net with ease, they still find a way, they grind it. They wear down their opposition," said two-time Olympic gold medallist Aly Wagner, speaking on American broadcaster FS1. "Not surprised by the result, surprised, though, that it was a harder situation than we anticipated coming in."
A slow start for the Americans
The match got off to a slow start with Canadian goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan going down with an injury early in the half and stopping play for nearly five minutes. Sheridan, who was Canada's starting keeper at the 2019 World Cup, was helped off the field by medical personnel and clearly in pain. Stephanie Labbé replaced her.
The first half ended scoreless, but perhaps the closest the U.S. came to scoring was from Catarina Macario who just missed high and wide in the 19th minute.
"We're expecting to see lots of activity from her. That's the type of player she is, lots of flair," head coach Vlatko Andonovski said in an interview with FS1.
"One thing, specifically, tactically, that we want to see from her is connecting the lines for us, putting herself in a situation where she can get the ball and be dangerous individually and also help our team become more dangerous, as well."
London 2012 Olympic champion Alex Morgan, who missed January's training camp due to a bout with the coronavirus in late 2020, Lavelle, a star of the 2019 World Cup team, and two-time World Cup champ Christen Press came off the bench at the 62 minute mark, giving Team USA an extra spark.
As the U.S. picked up their tempo, it seemed almost inevitable that they would score, with Press and Morgan missing three attempts in their first five minutes of play.
Then, they earned a free-kick after Canada's Adriana Leon shoved Margaret Purce, setting up Lavelle's goal.
Eighth-ranked Canada pushed the No. 1 team in the world, but couldn't find an equaliser in the absence of young star Jordyn Huitema and the experienced Christine Sinclair, who is the team's most-capped player, and the top goalscorer in all of international football.
Brazil defeat Argentina
In the first game of the day, Brazil was victorious over South American rivals Argentina, 4-1.
Brazilian star Marta scored the only goal of the first half, finding the back of the net after 30 minutes. The goal came from a penalty kick, after midfielder Adriana drew a foul, and was the 109th goal for Marta in internationals.
After a slow start in the first half, Brazil wasted no time in the second as Debinha scored at 47' off the pass from Marta. Adriana added a third goal 53 minutes in.
Argentina, for its part, refused to go quietly, getting on the scoreboard with a header from Mariana Larroquette at the hour mark.
But it wasn't enough to rally a comeback, and Brazil got the final goal of the match at the 82nd minute from Geyse.
All four teams will compete in a round-robin format, with the top team after three games winning the trophy. Play continues Sunday (21 February) as USA faces Brazil and Canada takes on Argentina.