Starting XI: Hope Solo; Kelley O'Hara, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg; Allie Long, Lindsey Horan, Carli Lloyd (c); Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh
There were no big surprises in the starting lineup sent out by Jill Ellis. A pre-match announcement made clear that Morgan Brian and Tobin Heath were being held out for precautionary reasons, due to recent minor injuries. But apart from those two, this may well be Ellis's preferred XI going into the first match in Rio. To the extent that there is any news here, it's that Crystal Dunn and Mallory Pugh got the starts alongside Alex Morgan. It's possible that this is simply for evaluation purposes, but Ellis generally favors sticking with what she likes, so our best guess is that Pugh and Dunn are preferred slightly ahead of Christen Press.
The lineup was billed as a 4-2-3-1, but as per usual that designation was more of a guideline than a rigid framework. Early on, they played in something closer to a classic 4-4-2, with Lloyd pushing forward to make a traditional front two with Morgan.
The US dominated the opening 10 minutes. The first real chance came in the 7th minute, with the US pressing deep and pinning Costa Rica back. Once the US won the ball back, they worked it around the right wing easily, creating space for Lloyd to set up Dunn, who then shot off the crossbar. Just a minute later, the US earned another chance under similar conditions, this time with Morgan unable to get off a strong shot and merely rolling it in front of goal. That was followed by another Morgan half-chance, created by a wonderful throughball from O'Hara deep on the right. Morgan's touch was just a little heavy, sending the ball out. The period was closed out by a horrific tackle on Lloyd at the top of the box, which drew yellow but very easily could have been red. The tackle actually set up a chance for Pugh who couldn't finish, and then play was called back for a free kick.
After escaping this period without conceding, Costa Rica tried desperately to exert a bit more influence higher up the pitch and relieve some of the pressure. This succeeded for a few minutes, but only a few. In the 15th minute the US finally notched the goal they had been looking for. The provider was Klingenberg, who received a pass in acres of space and waited for what seemed like ages, watching Dunn race to the far post. It was a textbook team goal, with each pass drawing the defense away from danger spots, and with Costa Rica looking as though they had cement in their boots.
The US scored again in the 22nd minute on a long solo goal from Pugh, who took the ball near midfield and simply cut straight toward the six yard box. Costa Rica once again gave her seemingly endless time, barely doing anything to usher her away from the goal. Cool under pressure, she waited for her moment, then rifled a shot across goal. It was terrible defending, but Pugh herself deserves huge credit for taking advantage of the space once it was given. Very few players in the world could have found that seam. The goal was illustrative of her entire night: relentless, forceful, incredibly quick, incredibly skillful. Pugh has been good all year, but this was a standout performance, with all her strengths on full display and her few weaknesses managed exceptionally well.
Things cooled down a bit after that, with the US continuing to press for more, but finding a bit less space with which to work. Pugh remained dangerous, winning balls and breaking free several times. But the US seemed to find difficulty breaking down the defense once Costa Rica were able to set themselves. On the other end, Costa Rica never seriously threatened, but at least were able to work in a few crosses.
However, the US effort finally earned a goal on the final kick of the half. O'Hara broke free and drew a rough foul. On the resulting free kick, Sauerbrunn sent in a delicious ball toward the far post, which was thumped in by Carli Lloyd. It was a deserved conclusion to a half of domination.
Halftime brought three substitutions, with Alyssa Naeher brushing off the cobwebs and finally getting a national team appearance, Ali Krieger coming on at left back and O'Hara switching over to the right, and Whitney Engen replacing Sauerbrunn
The US remained dominant in the opening portion of the second half, with Horan coming very close on a couple occasions, including a powerful shot off the post in the 50th minute.
The next period was relatively quiet, with a few more decent US chances—both Morgan and Lloyd having a decent look, but unable to convert. It also featured the first meaningful Costa Rica attack of the game, which was snuffed out by Naeher, coming off her line to grab the ball on the left. It wasn't much, but did offer a small example of Naeher's mobility and decision-making.
As the half continued, things slowed down even further, with the US remaining firmly in control but generating fewer chances. The descent into swampier play was not particularly surprising, given the heat on the night.
A small spark came in the 63rd minute, with Christen Press coming on for Alex Morgan (who had a pretty quiet night by her standards). However, while Press was able to build a few nice passing moves relatively quickly, she didn't find many more chances than Morgan had seen. The final two subs were Heath and Brian, coming on after the water break in the 76th minute, replacing Pugh and Horan, and just looking to pick up a few minutes to nurse back from their knocks.
Heath and Brian immediately played a role, both contributing in the buildup to the fourth US goal. Once again, Costa Rica's lackadaisical defense was partly at fault, leaving acres of space through the middle on a weak clearance. Alllie Long picked up the ball above the box and played a lovely one-touch ball into Press, who then found herself one on one with the keeper directly in front of goal. Unsurprisingly, Press was clinical, burying the chance and adding to her tally with the national team.
Press continued to lead the attack through the final minutes, missing narrowly left on one breakaway, and mishitting a flick after being set free on the left. It was not to be, though, and the US had to settle for easing out a 4-0 win.
On the whole, this was a dominant, easy win for the US. It must be said that Costa Rica looked well off the pace, particularly in the opening quarter of the match. It's hard to say how much the result tonight will translate into victories in Rio. But if the primary goal of this match was to build confidence and chemistry, it was surely a success.
What did you think about the match? Did this tell us anything important about Rio? Can you come up with any other superlatives to describe Pugh's performance tonight? Share your thoughts in the comments.