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USWNT, looking the part of World Cup favorite, wins SheBelieves Cup

United States 2, Brazil 1

Alex Morgan laces a 23-yard shot late in the first half to give the United States a 1-0 lead in Frisco, Tex. (Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
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The U.S. women’s national soccer team hoisted another trophy Wednesday night, the latest souvenir during more than three decades of excellence. Make no mistake: Winning the SheBelieves Cup for the fourth consecutive time was nice. Fireworks popped and medals were presented in Frisco, Tex., after the 2-1 victory over Brazil, capping an unblemished run in the four-team tournament.

But with the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand five months away — and roster and performance issues atop the agenda — the two-week exercise served greater purposes.

“We enjoy winning,” Coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “We enjoy winning the title, but the whole time while we’re in camp, we’re talking about [how] it’s not just about this tournament. It’s about preparation for the World Cup.”

The Americans, who are seeking to become the first men’s or women’s team to win three consecutive world titles, showed their resilience and depth against three opponents with different styles. They extended their winning streak to six since losing three in a row for the first time in 29 years.

On Wednesday, the top-ranked U.S. squad grew stronger as the match progressed but needed to survive a late scare before improving to 31-3-5 all-time against No. 9 Brazil, including 21-0-2 at home.

Emily Fox emerges as the USWNT’s versatile ‘game changer’ ahead of World Cup

Alex Morgan scored a spectacular goal on the final touch of the first half and Mallory Swanson extended her scoring tear to six games as the Americans won the eighth annual SheBelieves Cup.

“This tournament is always good to play,” said Swanson, who has scored eight goals during her streak. “There’s some of the top teams in the world, so it’s always a good test for us and it’s a good experience to have, especially before World Cup. Having these games and playing against different teams and different styles is really beneficial.”

Andonovski will have two more chances to evaluate his players — friendlies against Ireland in Austin and St. Louis in April, according to the Irish Examiner — before announcing his 23-player World Cup roster in June. The Americans will play a send-off match in July before departing to Auckland, New Zealand.

His squad is taking shape. With midfielder Rose Lavelle making her tournament debut after recovering from a mild muscle strain, the lineup Wednesday was probably close to what it will look like in the World Cup opener against Vietnam.

The only obvious exception was right wing Trinity Rodman taking the place of Sophia Smith, the 2022 U.S. player of the year sidelined the past two camps with a foot injury. Other key players expected to return from injury soon include Catarina Macario, Tierna Davidson and Kelley O’Hara.

Aside from personnel decisions, Andonovski is working on getting his team in sync and operating at a world-class level. The United States was good throughout the tournament but did not hit a higher gear as frequently as will be needed at the World Cup.

For much of the first half, the United States was affected by the Brazilian press. Giveaways in deep positions opened opportunities for the visitors.

In the first 30 minutes, each side came close to scoring. Crystal Dunn’s 18-yarder caromed off a defender and kissed the right post. Brazil’s Kerolin missed the far corner by a whisker after a long central run by Bia Zaneratto.

Late in the half, the Americans played in the space and at the speed they preferred. Andi Sullivan’s through ball to Morgan led to a goal that was nullified by an offside call.

Deep in stoppage time, there were no questions. Swanson drew three defenders in the penalty area before her shot was blocked. Morgan collected the rebound beyond the box and, using exquisite technique, curled a 23-yard bid beyond goalkeeper Lorena’s reach and inside the left post for her 121st goal in 204 international appearances.

USWNT loves Crystal Dunn at left back. The feeling isn’t exactly mutual.

Less than four minutes into the second half, Brazil’s Adriana hit the crossbar with a 25-yard drive. The Brazilian attack gained strength in the 58th minute, when superstar Marta, preparing for a sixth World Cup, entered the fray.

Briefly, the U.S. defense was under duress.

Pressure was alleviated in the 63rd minute. Lynn Williams, who had just replaced Rodman, forced a turnover. Lavelle took the initiative, making a central run before laying off the ball to Swanson, who beat Lorena to the near corner from 12 yards.

Swanson’s tear began in November with a goal in a home friendly against Germany. She followed with three goals in two away friendlies against New Zealand. Two first-half goals against Canada last Thursday in Orlando were followed by one against Japan on Sunday in Nashville.

The Americans seemed comfortably on their way to victory, but substitute Ludmila beat Emily Fox to Bruninha’s 90th-minute cross and, from an acute angle, headed it past Alyssa Naeher, who had come off her line. Additional threats in stoppage time were extinguished.

“We’re literally down to very, very small details right now,” Andonovski said. “Some parts of the game, or these three games, we could see how it’s supposed to look and we’re very happy. When these players come back [in April], I feel like they are going to be able to execute all the details.”

Notes: Dunn, Andonovski’s first-choice left back, logged the most minutes (61) for the national team since giving birth to her son last May. …

In the first match, No. 11 Japan (1-2-0) ended a four-game scoreless streak by striking twice in the first half and once late for a 3-0 victory over No. 6 Canada (1-2-0). Kiko Seike scored in the 26th minute, Yui Hasegawa converted a penalty kick in the 41st and Jun Endo added a goal in the 77th.