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Christen Press hat trick drives USA 8 - 1 win over Romania

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A hat trick, a brace, an own goal, and more made it a loosey goosey kind of night for the United States.

Soccer: International Friendly Women's Soccer-Romania at USA Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The United States faced Romania in the first of two friendlies for November.

Available subs: 1-Naeher, 3-Mewis, 5-O’Hara, 8-Johnston, 9-Horan, 13-Morgan, 21-McDonald.

Ellis once again went with three in the back, with Allie Long as her middle center back, though she switched up the 3-5-2 to a 3-4-3. Casey Short also saw another start, with fellow newcomers Andi Sullivan, Kealia Ohai, and Lynn Williams returning to the lineup.

Romania started off with high pressure but it was absorbed fairly easily by the back three. The United States opted to play the ball wide down both flanks to start, cutting back in in the attacking third and going for some fluid interchange. On the right side, Kealia Ohai and Crystal Dunn especially did some good work overlapping and exchanging runs to send in crosses.

Christen Press opened the scoring in the 8’ as Tobin Heath popped in a good mid-range ball for Dunn, who managed to get the ball to drop nicely into space while under pressure. Press ran on and finished the ball into the net, her first goal of the night.

Tobin Heath took her turn just two minutes later in the 10’ and made it 2-0 off a ball that started with Sullivan in the midfield. Heath’s finish was just as nice as to watch as Press’ and it seemed for a bit that the US would remain firmly in control.

But in the 16’, Romania nearly made it 2-1 as a quick ball out of the back caught the defense on the wrong foot. Laura Rus corralled the ball and headed it down, where it just barely dinged wide off the post. Had it not gone wide Harris wouldn’t have gotten there in time, so quick was the Romania push. It was a foreshadowing of a moment to come.

But in the meantime, Morgan Brian made it 3-0 with a diving header in the 25’ off a free kick after a yellow card foul on Dunn, who was tugged down by the back of her jersey just outside the 18.

But then. Romania scored their only goal of the half in the 31’ on another fast ball out of the back. Ashlyn Harris was way off her line with the rest of the team pushed so high, practically out of the 18, and had a moment to decide whether to commit or backtrack and hope her caught-out defenders, all madly dashing back, would make it. She chose to commit, and in doing so got bypassed at speed by Rus, who scored on an open net.

Still, the US didn’t let Romania get comfortable at all. Christen Press nailed two quick goals in the 35’ and 38’ to complete her hat trick and make it 5-1, solidly putting away the game with 45 minutes left to play.

The US made five subs to start the second half:

Samantha Mewis in for Kealia Ohai
Alex Morgan in for Christen Press
Jess McDonald in for Lynn Williams
Lindsey Horan in for Morgan Brian
Julie Johnston in for Becky Sauerbrunn

It’s a shame McDonald didn’t get to sub on and play with her WNY Flash teammate Williams; the two of them were easily one of the more exciting strike pairs to watch in NWSL this season. But off Williams went, leaving McDonald to earn her first cap on her own.

The half started out looking decent; Horan and Mewis both worked the ball centrally, and Mewis had some good mid-range passes trying to pick out the forwards. But most of the help ended up coming from Crystal Dunn, who was pushed far right. Time and again Dunn went to the endline and sent in a sharp cross, like in the 52’ when she assisted Alex Morgan to make it 6-1. Morgan was completely unmarked in the box like Christen Press before her.

Romania still attempted to push back on the counter and in the 55’ a sprinting Long had to pressure a player into shooting from range, allowing Harris to collect the ball. There was a lot of hustling back by midfielders and defenders to cover and it worked against this opponent, but against a team that could properly counter the US in this setup probably would have been set back at least another goal or two.

Kelley O’Hara was the last sub in the 61’, coming on for Andi Sullivan. Sullivan had a decent night; once again she made some good decisions from deep in the midfield, but needed to come up to international speed. That should come with experience, though, and Sullivan has earned further consideration from Ellis.

The game got bogged down a little bit in the last 25 minutes or so. McDonald was isolated and Horan wasn’t working connectively. Alex Morgan’s second goal in the 75’ came from - you guessed it - Crystal Dunn, who went endline and sent it in, where Horan headed it down and Morgan was quick to pounce and finish for a brace.

Morgan looked pretty good on the night, several times getting to the ball with speed, and threatening in front of goal. She had a great look in the 72’ when she got the ball under pressure and was very nearly able to turn and burn it near post.

The game looked to be ending at a paltry 7-1 but Tobin Heath put the capper on the night. Heath drifted through the midfield for a lot of the game, going where she was needed, but frustratingly slipping into “burn four defenders with ball skills then get dispossessed” mode. Heath held the ball in the box in stoppage and took a shot into traffic, where it was deflected into the net for an own goal. The ref called full time at 8-1.

The success of the 3-4-3 here definitely comes with a giant caveat. A mix of old and new players in an untested formation still managed to browbeat Romania 8-1 despite a defense that kept getting caught out and a midfield that at times lost its connection to the forwards. But at the same time, this is a first draft. Ellis has written out the basics and will have a chance to refine and strengthen her arguments in early 2017, during the She Believes tournament against England, France, and Germany.

For now, there’s just one more WNT friendly in 2016, the second game against Romania. The formula now seems to be a three-back formation, capping new players, and planned line changes at half time. That’s fine for now; come 2017, the real test begins.