On Saturday, the USWNT continued their countdown to the World Cup with a 4-0 victory over New Zealand in St. Louis, Mo. This match was the last before Coach Jill Ellis will announce the roster for this summer’s tournament, and with the depth of this team, there is no doubt Ellis’ decision will be a difficult one.
The first half was ruled by US possession, and I mean ruled. About halfway through the first half, goalkeeper Hope Solo gave up a corner kick on a ball that she should have left alone, seemingly out of some combination of indecision and boredom. Meanwhile, the rest of the team showed off some great development on the wings, but only had a few real attempts on goal despite their dominance. Forward Amy Rodriguez, a major contributor in recent games, lost battles to the goalpost twice in the first half, but the second attempt was one of the most impressive and heartbreaking misses I’ve seen. (Here’s a great highlights video.)
The only goal in the first half came from defender Meghan Klingenberg with a one-touch screamer from outside the box. A corner kick from fan-favorite Megan Rapinoe (getting her 100th cap today) made it through the box before it was sent back across by defender Ali Krieger, and cleared by New Zealand right into the path of Klingenberg who showed no mercy to that ball. The shot was powerful enough to get by the Ferns’ goalkeeper Erin Nayler, but the real skill was in Klingenberg’s ability to keep the shot under the crossbar for the goal.
After halftime, the USWNT came out looking a bit too comfortable. New Zealand’s development was getting steadily stronger, but before they could start making serious threats however, Coach Ellis brought in three subs that would make a serious impact. Sydney Leroux, Tobin Heath and Lori Chalupny came in for Christen Press, Rodriguez and Klingenberg and the subs’ desire to get a second goal was evident right away. Solid goal attempts began developing quickly, but after veteran Abby Wambach joined the game around the 73rd minute, goals began to rain down on New Zealand. Though Wambach didn’t score today, it’s easy to make the argument that there was definite correlation in her arrival on the pitch and the USWNT’s three goals that soon followed in rapid succession.
First came St. Louis native Lori Chalupny, ripping a shot in the 75th minute that, again, developed out of a corner kick. This time it was a short kick to Rapinoe who laid off the ball setting up the goal to make it 2-0 USA. Next, another defender and a player who is quickly becoming a favorite, Julie Johnston, headed one home in the 78th minute off a beautiful free kick from Lauren Holiday. If there was any question about Johnston making the World Cup roster, she put it to bed, read it a bedtime story, and tucked it in with this goal, very similar to her goal in the Algarve Cup final.
Last to strike was young gun Morgan Brian, the only offensive player to score today and doing so on one of her first touches of the game. Brian made a nice run out of midfield for Leroux and sent a textbook finesse finish into the lower left corner to make it 4-0 with only eight minutes left in regulation.
While the USWNT was able to make this a decisive victory, they still have to work on getting shots on goal earlier in the game. Improved from their last appearances was the development of play on the wings, as the chemistry between defenders and their correlating midfielders is growing to be palpable. Rapinoe and Klingenberg teamed up to own the left side today, and I very much expect to see that winning combination again. Figuring out the right combination of players up top wasn’t made any easier for Ellis with three goals coming from defenders, and a lack of substantial presence from Press and Carli Lloyd. Luckily the US has three more friendlies ahead as they begin their send-off tour on May 10.
As for New Zealand, the Ferns will have to regroup and figure out their strategy for competing in the World Cup with teams like the US. Maintaining composure and adding some patience will go a long way, even when they’re out-possessed. Today, they were caught a couple times sending hopeful long balls with no real purpose, and on the World Cup stage, that strategy just won’t do. Two months isn’t a lot of time to make big changes, but ideally they’ll find some small adjustments to make that make a big impact.