The U.S. Women’s National Team rolled to their second four-goal win over Switzerland in four days with a 5-1 victory in Minneapolis on Sunday, as head coach Jill Ellis continued to show her faith in youth and experimentation. But Carli Lloyd’s brace – including a stunning first-half equalizer – was a reminder that experience has its place in this new-look side as well.
It was a dominant performance for the U.S., but not without some early scares. Switzerland looked an improved side in the opening minutes with the return of impact player Lara Dickenmann, and even jumped out to an early lead inside 10 minutes. But as the match continued, and the U.S. came into their own, the visitors faded in impact and looked tired, unable to maintain much possession and worn out from chasing the inspired Americans around the pitch.
Ellis made three changes to the lineup that started in the WNT’s 4-0 win over Switzerland Wednesday in Sandy, Utah. Ashlyn Harris got the nod in goal in place of Alyssa Naeher, while Kelley O’Hara and Lynn Williams came in in place of Emily Sonnett and Lindsey Horan.
As she did Wednesday, Ellis went with a 3-5-2, with Allie Long once again anchoring the three-back alongside Becky Sauerbrunn and Casey Short. (Short, who earlier in the week made her first WNT start at outside midfield, took the place of Emily Sonnett.) Long once again looked solid in her new position, and was particularly comfortable pushing forward and attacking from the back.
As with last game, Ellis’ faith in new blood paid off. It was the first WNT start for Williams, who had a memorable first cap on Wednesday, when she scored the team’s (first) goal 49 seconds after subbing into the game. The Western New York Flash forward looked relatively quiet for much of the first half, but showed good positional awareness and ability to combine with Dunn and Lloyd. In the second half, she looked more lively, showing great speed and movement and assisting on Crystal Dunn’s 62nd-minute goal with a well-executed cross.
Andi Sullivan, meanwhile, earned her second straight start, and picked up where she left off last game with another composed-beyond-her-years performance at holding midfield. The Stanford junior continued to stake her case as a strong option at the position for the future, playmaking from deep and providing some stunning services, including a pinpoint second-half assist to Christen Press.
Switzerland had come out looking like they had something to prove after Wednesday’s result. Dickenmann’s presence made an immediate impact. The Ohio State alum showed off her dynamic presence and playmaking ability in the first few minutes of the game, and played a key role in the visitors’ going 1-0 up in the seventh minute. In a timely counterattack, Dickenmann’s shot was too much for Harris, who parried it away, but Sandrine Mauron was able to beat the defense to finish the rebound. If this opening goal was a warning of the vulnerabilities of a three-back system, it was one of few, and the U.S.’s play for the rest of the match was indication that such slip-ups might be worthwhile growing pains.
Soon the U.S. started to settle into their groove, and they were rewarded with a spectacular Carli Lloyd equalizer in the 25th minute. Lloyd played a 1-2 with Sullivan, who passed to O’Hara, who laid the ball off for Lloyd. From about 28 yards, the New Jersey native unleased a stunning strike that sailed into the upper right corner – a classic Carli Lloyd goal if ever there was one.
As the first half wore on, Switzerland – still missing several key players, including playmaker Ramona Bachmann – faded and the U.S. looked liberated, showing off some beautiful creative play and positional fluidity. Dunn, who started the game in the No. 10 role, enjoyed a great deal of freedom, employing her trademark ability to create space and hold onto the ball both centrally and out wide, as she seamlessly interchanged positions with Lloyd and Williams. Outside midfielders O’Hara and Heath kept the Swiss defense guessing with timely endline runs and cuts inside –O’Hara was particularly active in the first half – and the midfield looked controlled and composed under the partnership of Sullivan and Morgan Brian.
In the 42nd minute, the U.S. came tantalizingly close to grabbing the lead. Dunn latched onto a volleyed pass over the top from Williams and forced an acrobatic save from Swiss goalkeeper Gaelle Thalmann that rattled off the right post. Lloyd was there for the follow-up, but her shot was blocked.
The U.S. was rampant in the final minutes of the half, tormenting the Swiss defense with chances and creative play. The tied score at the break could have been very different were it not for some lucky breaks and brave defensive play by Switzerland.
In the second half, the U.S. continued their inspired and creative play, and the floodgates really opened. Switzerland, who had put up a tough fight defensively in the first half, looked exhausted, and the U.S., benefiting from some timely substitutions of fresh faces, couldn’t have been hungrier.
Christen Press, who subbed on for O’Hara at the start of second half, didn’t take long to make an impact. In the 51st minute, a beautiful individual effort from Carli Lloyd nearly gave Press a goal of her own, but nevertheless got the Chicago Red Stars forward involved in a big way. Lloyd dribbled up the middle and sprayed an outside of the foot pas through to Press, who took one too many touches and got tackled. But the ball came to Lloyd, who buried the follow-up past second-half substitute goalkeeper Stenia Michel to put the U.S. ahead with her second goal of the day.
Two minutes later, Press got her goal. The Stanford alum ran onto a beautiful long pass from fellow Cardinal Sullivan. Off the bounce, Press chipped a side-footed volley over the head of Michel to make it 3-1 with her second goal in two matches.
The U.S. continued to take the game to Switzerland, and were rewarded again in the 62nd minute. Lloyd found Williams, whose low bent cross found Dunn at the far post to extend the hosts’ lead.
In the final 25 minutes of the game, Ellis made several more youth-focused substitutions. Western New York Flash defender Abby Dahlkemper came on for Sauerbrunn in the 67’, and eight minutes later, Lindsey Horan, who had started on Wednesday, subbed in for Lloyd.
Then, in the 81st minute, Kealia Ohai replaced former UNC teammate Dunn to earn her first cap. Seconds later, she was on the score sheet. In what can only be described as a dream debut, Ohai received a cut-back pass from Press just after subbing on. The Houston Dash forward took a few touches before slotting a low shot into the bottom right corner of the net – a fitting end to an afternoon that was all about taking chances.
It was a clinical performance by the U.S., and one that will no doubt have fans optimistic about the wealth of options available as the team plunges into a new cycle.