MATCH ANALYSIS: CanWNT fall on penalties in 2024 SheBelieves Cup final

Final Score: United States 2-2 Canada (5-4 on penalties)
Goalscorers: Smith 50′, 68′; Leon 40′, 86′ (PK)
2024 SheBelieves Cup

Match Recap

Canada scored late to force penalties against the United States at Field in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday night, but were unable to beat the hosts in the shootout to win the 2024 SheBelieves Cup.

Vanessa Gilles and Jaedyn Shaw traded chances within seconds of each other early in the match, but both failed to hit the target with their respective efforts. The Americans had a lot of the early possession, pouring the pressure on Canada, but were left frustrated for the most part as Canada put in a physical, defensive shift to limit their scoring chances.

Shaw nearly scored just before the half-hour mark after a moment of individual excellence, calmly chipping the ball over Gilles’ head before taking a shot at Kailen Sheridan — the first attempt on goal in the match. Her San Diego Wave teammate denied her from point-blank range, however, making a fantastic save to keep the match scoreless.

With time winding down in the first half Canada broke the stalemate, thanks to a composed finish from Adriana Leon. After Ashley Lawrence collided with American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher at the edge of the penalty area following a long pass forward from Jade Rose, the ball fell to Deanne Rose, who played it along the ground toward goal. Leon pounced on it, and fired a shot through the legs of defender Abby Dahlkemper to open the scoring.

The goal was Leon’s 38th for Canada, tying her with Silvana Burtini for third on the list of the nation’s all-time leading goalscorers.

The Americans tried to find a quick response, but the first half ended 1-0 to the visitors. Forty-five seconds after play resumed, halftime substitute Mallory Swanson tested Kailen Sheridan with a shot on target, but Sheridan was able to get down in time to jump on it.

The United States would find their equalizer a few minutes later after a period of sustained pressure, as Sophia Smith received a pass on the edge of the penalty area before curling a shot into the bottom left corner of Canada’s goal.

Eighteen minutes after scoring her first goal, Smith added a second to give the United States the lead. After Trinity Rodman chased down a pass up the pitch from Shaw that split the Canadian defenders, she was able to pass it laterally to Smith, who fired home her second goal of the game.

American captain Lindsey Horan tested Sheridan as well a few minutes later, but the Canadian goalkeeper was able to make a fairly comfortable save.

As she did at the end of the first half, Adriana Leon found an equalizer for Canada with time running out in the second half, this time from the penalty spot. Cutting in from the right side of the box, Leon was tripped by Crystal Dunn, and stepped up to the take the kick herself. She buried it into the bottom right corner, tying things up with under five minutes left in the ninety.

Leon caused all kinds of problems for the United States in this match, and a few minutes after her second goal nearly had a third, forcing a diving stop from Naeher with a shot from distance. From the ensuing corner, Kadeisha Buchanan rattled the crossbar with a thumping header, after a curled cross into the penalty area from Leon.

Horan also came close to winning the game late for her side, bending a free kick just wide of the Canadian net. After several minutes of stoppage time, referee Crystal Sobers blew her whistle to bring the match to a close, and send the two teams to a shootout to decide the winner.

Canada started well, with Leon and Jessie Fleming scoring the first two shots, while Trinity Rodman missed the first for the Americans. Sophia Smith got the States back within one, beating Sheridan for the third time in the match, and the hosts tied things up in round three as goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher scored before making a save against Jade Rose. Naeher also stopped Cloé Lacasse’s shot in round four, before Horan scored to give the Americans their first lead in the shootout.

After Julia Grosso scored and Emily Sonnett missed in round five, sudden death was needed, with Ashley Lawrence and Abby Dahlkemper scoring in the sixth round to tie things up at four. Evelyne Viens failed to score to begin round seven of the shootout, but Emily Fox made no mistake, winning the match and tournament for the United States.

It was the second shootout loss to the United States in three matches for Canada, who also lost to their rivals from south of the border in the Concacaf W Gold Cup semifinals last month.

Three Observations

Canada battle back, but lose to United States on penalties again

Canada lost to the United States at the W Gold Cup 35 days ago, and were keen to avoid losing twice to their bitter rivals in such quick succession — especially with a trophy on the line.

The Canadian women’s national team beating the States on American soil is something that hasn’t happened since November 11, 2000, also in Columbus. When Adriana Leon’s first goal of the game had Canada up by one at halftime, many wondered if this might the time they get over the line — and lift a trophy in front of a stadium full of American fans to put the icing on the cake.

Two goals from Sophia Smith in the second half to give the States a 2-1 lead stopped that idea in its tracks, but when Adriana Leon won and then converted a penalty with four minutes left in the game, some allowed themselves to dream again that an upset might just be on the cards. Kadeisha Buchanan headed the ball off the crossbar on a set piece that would have surely won Canada the SheBelieves Cup with moments left in regular time, but instead penalties were required to decide a winner.

Just as was the case in the W Gold Cup final in March, Alyssa Naeher broke Canadian hearts in the shootout — making several saves and confidently scoring a penalty herself. A couple of the Canadian penalties on Tuesday night were underhit and placed poorly, making Naeher’s job a little easier for the second meeting in a row, but the American goalkeeper deserves a lot of credit for putting the team on her back again.

“I think for probably both teams it was a good experience because there’s a whole lot of mind games in terms of how many times the keeper goes a certain way, and how many times this player you scouted, and do people change their spots, all of these things,” Priestman said after the match.

“Adriana Leon, she’s got nerves of steel, she took two penalties the last time. She’s [said], ‘Yeah, get me in, I’m in the shootout’, and I think that’s great experience. I think when you play the same team twice at penalties, there is more mind games around this. Is the keeper gonna go the same way, is the player gonna change what they did last time? That’s a different experience but it’s a great test.”

While they will be disappointed with how the final ended and missing out on a trophy, there is a silver lining from Canada’s SheBelieves Cup matches against Brazil and the United States. Canada proved once again that they can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the world. Against the United States in particular — a team that has historically dominated them — they also showed they aren’t afraid to their neighbours to the south, like they have seemed to at times in the past.

That, ultimately, is good preparation for the Olympics this summer.

Canada celebrates a goal against the United States at the 2024 SheBelieves Cup. (Photo: Canada Soccer)

Shaw versus Rose offers glimpse into the present and future of Canada-US rivalry

As a magical generation of players like Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt, Megan Rapinoe, and Julie Ertz are phased out of their respective national teams, the next generation of Canadian and American stars are bursting onto the scene and continuing a rivalry between the two nations that goes back decades — both on and off the pitch.

Players like Jessie Fleming, Julia Grosso, Sophia Smith, and Naomi Girma are among the current young stars in this fixture, players who are still young and hitting their prime, but already boast a lot of experience that they will keep with them for however long they play.

Even younger talents are breaking through now, however, and already becoming national team regulars. That was abundantly clear in Tuesday’s match, with two of the best players on the pitch now having just 31 combined national team caps between them. Twenty-one-year-old Canadian defender Jade Rose versus nineteen-year-old American attacker Jaedyn Shaw is going to be a world class matchup we will talk about for a very long time.

Both players have earned the trust of their coaches, leading to more playing time, especially in the past two months with the W Gold Cup and SheBelieves Cup. Both have made the most of their opportunities, with Shaw already scoring seven times in 12 matches, and Rose shutting down some of the top attackers in the world and impressing in attack as well.

In this match alone, both played key roles in goals for their teams.

Rose sent a long pass forward to Ashley Lawrence which led to Adriana Leon’s first goal at the end of the first half, while Shaw split the Canadian backline with a through ball in the second half that resulted in Sophia Smith’s second goal of the game.

Shaw also danced around Vanessa Gilles in the first half, flicking the ball to herself over the head of Gilles before taking a shot at her San Diego Wave teammate Kailen Sheridan, forcing a crucial save from the Canadian netminder. She was dangerous throughout her 75-minute shift, and caused problems all night with her ability on the ball, and movement off it.

If being one of the best players on the pitch featuring Olympic and World Cup champions wasn’t impressive enough from Jade Rose, it is also important to remember that she isn’t even a professional footballer yet — she’s balancing sport with studying for a psychology degree at Harvard University, one of the best schools in the world. When she does choose to go pro at the end of her university journey, she is expected to be highly sought after by many of the sport’s top clubs.

She’s also now doing it with the famous number 12 on her back — worn for many years by the best Canadian footballer of all time, Christine Sinclair, who retired from international duty in December. Sinclair, according to Priestman after Tuesday’s match, selected Rose herself to inherit that squad number, knowing that it comes with a lot of pressure.

“I think that says a lot,” Priestman said of Sinclair choosing Rose to wear the number twelve. “I think Jade is just such a level-headed, intelligent person and then an incredible player. I thought today she showed real bravery to step into midfield and just dribble a player, do something different. I think she has an unbelievable football brain and then unbelievable athleticism.

“She’s not even a professional player, and I think that the skies are the limit. I was trying to protect young players about putting a lot of pressure on, and no doubt Christine to be honest didn’t want to give that shirt to a forward, I think that’s a lot of pressure. [Rose has] got a real bright future, and every day just wants to get better and better — she’s a top player.”

Adriana Leon extends red-hot form, continues to climb all-time Canadian scoring list

Since Canada’s gold medal at the Olympic Games in the summer of 2021, the national team’s best goalscorer has been Adriana Leon. Leon has consistently put in strong performances with the national team for a long time, but in 2024 has hit another gear entirely.

At the Concacaf W Gold Cup in late February and early March, Leon scored six goals in five games, winning the tournament’s Golden Boot award. She continued that hot start to 2024 on Saturday, scoring once in each half for both of Canada’s goals. While it won’t show up on the scoresheet, Leon also buried penalties in both of Canada’s matches at the SheBelieves Cup — finding the back of the net in shootouts against both Brazil and the States.

Leon’s tenacity from minute one to minute ninety is always impressive as well, and she caused a lot of problems for the American defenders on Tuesday — running directly at them and challenging them to try and stop her. That was especially clear on her second goal, where she won a penalty after Crystal Dunn fouled her, then stepped up herself to beat Alyssa Naeher.

Moments later she curled a dangerous corner kick into the penalty area, which Kadeisha Buchanan headed off the crossbar — a few inches too high instead of sealing what would have been a famous victory for the Canadians.

“[She] just wants to get the ball and play with the ball,” Priestman said about Leon after the match. “I think with Dri, she’s a goalscorer, natural goalscorer. Individually hard to read, and that I would describe as a maverick-type player who it’s hard to put in a box and say, ‘This is your job’.

“She’s a goalscorer and in a big pressure moment she’s delivered.”

With her seventh and eighth goals of 2024, the 38th and 39th of her international career, Leon has now taken sole possession of third place on the Canadian women’s national team’s all-time goalscoring leaderboard, tying and then passing Silvana Burtini — who scored 38 across 77 caps between 1987 and 2003. Leon is 32 back of Charmaine Hooper for second all-time, and 151 back of Christine Sinclair’s seemingly unbreakable record.

Interestingly, the three Canadian goalscorers the last time Canada beat the United States on American soil were Sinclair, Hooper, and Burtini — way back on November 11, 2000.

Canada’s Adriana Leon steps up to take a penalty against the United States at the 2024 SheBelieves Cup. (Photo: Canada Soccer) Player of the Match

Sophia Smith, United States

The American forward scored twice in the match and added a successful penalty in the shootout as the United States won the 2024 SheBelieves Cup.

What’s next?

Next up, both sides will continue their Olympic preparation ahead of this summer’s tournament. Friendlies have not yet been announced for Canada, but they have the opportunity to play up to two matches between May 27 and June 4.