Starting XI: Alyssa Naeher; Kelley O'Hara, Emily Sonnett, Ali Krieger, Jaelene Hinkle; Stephanie McCaffrey, Samantha Mewis; Carli Lloyd (c), Mallory Pugh, Christen Press; Crystal Dunn
Change was the watchword as the United States set their starting XI against Puerto Rico in the last group game of CONCACAF Olympic qualifying. Out went players like Becky Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan; in came Emily Sonnett and Stephanie McCaffrey. True, the US was resting starters who have gone two games in a row on a tight CONCACAF schedule, but it's still a little exciting to see so many new names at once. Even Kelley O'Hara represents a whiff of change, which is a shame considering her power and versatility as a fullback. Why Ellis currently favors Hinkle over O'Hara, left foot notwithstanding, is a mystery. Ellis' desire to have her fullbacks contribute to width in the attack while not getting caught out too high up the field seems perfectly suited to O'Hara's skillset.
That was a note that seemed to be on Kelley O'Hara's mind as she was consistently running high or inside. Her left-sided counterpart Jaelene Hinkle was also heavily involved in the attack, pushing up to combine with Mal Pugh, though she dropped off later in the game.
Pugh was in fine form, taking on defenders, running into space, and finding little seams to set up others. The first goal in the 6' was just a sample of what was to come, with a stepover that let Pugh run into space and then find Crystal Dunn in the center. Dunn had a great first touch that allowed her to turn and shoot for her first goal of the night.
Goal number two was a penalty awarded when Pugh tripped up in the box. The ref believed Pugh's fall came with a bit of Puerto Rican assistance and pointed to the spot. Carli Lloyd took the PK and managed to bang the ball in on the underside of the crossbar to make it 2-0.
Returning to Dunn, she and Press made a decent case for why they should both be starters up top - Dunn especially. Dunn had five goals on the night, fully half of the final 10-0 scoreline, demonstrating how much more dangerous she is when allowed to stay centrally as opposed to being forced out wide right. She and Press had a good rapport that played merry havoc with the defense from time to time.
Goals also came from Kelley O'Hara, Christen Press, Sam Mewis, and Pugh herself. O'Hara's goal was a 45' beauty that came to her courtesy of Stephanie McCaffrey. O'Hara took off on a deep unsupervised run into the box and received the ball right in front of net, finishing it in style with a cheeky backheel to make it 4-0.
Then Pugh forced a goal in the 60', driving inside instead of looking to pass. Her cross hit a Puerto Rican player's foot and deflected in for an own goal, making it 5-0.
Goals six and seven came one and two minutes later from Dunn and Press respectively, making it three goals in three minutes for the United States. Puerto Rico's rough night didn't end there, though.
Goal eight was - who else - Dunn in the 85'. Mewis and sub Meghan Klingenberg moved the ball around the box well; Klingenberg sent it centrally with Dunn running in and her defender trailing her, allowing Dunn to one-time it into the net. Dunn scored yet again two minutes later in the 87' and then Mewis herself capped the night with the tenth goal in the 90'. Mewis' goal came after a series of efforts went hammered over the crossbar; this time she cut in on her defender, carried the ball into the box, and finished at the far post without looking forced.
The United States used all three of their subs, with Carli Lloyd out and Alex Morgan in at the start of the second half, Klingenberg in for Pugh in the 67' which pushed O'Hara higher up on the right, and Morgan Brian in for Press in the 73'. Players frequently switched sides or drifted in and out of the center of the field in what seemed like a planned experiment in versatility. And why not against Puerto Rico, who were unable to push out of their own half more than a handful of times.
Players who made strong cases for Olympic spots tonight include Dunn and Pugh - at this point not taking Crystal Dunn is tantamount to actively mismanaging the WNT. As for Pugh, she showed great vision and decision-making against Puerto Rico, enough that it makes sense to now test her against teams like Germany, England, and France.
Players who worked hard but weren't necessarily definitive were Kelley O'Hara and Stephanie McCaffrey. O'Hara will probably end up rostered anyway as her utility to the team is simply too good to completely leave her off, while McCaffrey had some good moments both in combining with other players and in creating chances through her crosses. They can both provide width and make runs inside, and it would be nice to see them get some more time to work out a partnership on the right.
As for defensive players like Sonnett and Naeher, Puerto Rico simply didn't provide enough of a test to measure where they stand now, though Naeher playing this game instead of Harris may point to her position on the goalkeeper depth chart now.
The United States ends group stage with 16 goals and three shutouts. They will now face the second-best team from Group B, which will be Guyana or Trinidad & Tobago. The winner of that game will have secured a berth to the Olympics...so congratulations on making it to the Olympics, USWNT? On that note, it is a bit disheartening to see the continuing extreme disparity in CONCACAF women's teams, but there have been a couple of notable stories already, such as Guyana upsetting Guatemala and Costa Rica eliminating Mexico, that demonstrate that CONCACAF is evolving and women's teams out of the traditional top three of USA, Canada, and Mexico are trying to reshape the status quo. Four years from now, hopefully 10-0 blowouts will be impossible to come by.