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USA beats South Africa 1-0 off Crystal Dunn goal

Soccer: International Friendly Women's Soccer-South Africa at USA Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Starting XI: Hope Solo, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara (Heather O’Reilly, 82’), Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston (Whitney Engen, 81’), Mallory Pugh (Samantha Mewis, 87’), Lindsey Horan (Carli Lloyd, 46’), Allie Long, Christen Press, Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan (Ali Krieger, 68’)

The first half started off at a brisk pace as South Africa looked to pressure the United States and limit their possession. Christen Press got a very early chance in the 1’ as she received the ball while lingering between the South African defenders, but she put the ball wide.

For the next 35 minutes it was a combination of South Africa’s pressure and organized defense and the United States’ inability to put together good passing. If South Africa wasn’t stepping to players, then the US was turning over with badly-weighted passes that forced them to backtrack and regain the ball. A few times Becky Sauerbrunn was forced to take control in midfield and clean up any forays into US territory.

The United States still had chances throughout, but they all went begging, including a loose ball in the box in the 20’ that Mal Pugh just couldn’t finish.

She made up for it in the 35’ though, when she drove deep along the left and sent in a good low cross. Crystal Dunn was waiting far post to bury it, and so she did, making it 1-0.

After the goal the field opened up more for the US, as South Africa contracted a bit and began playing more cautiously. Pugh kept finding Alex Morgan’s feet, but she was either caught in traffic or didn’t have a clear enough shooting lane to really get it on net.

Possession still didn’t flow as freely as it should have, despite the South African retreat and lessening of pressure; the US continued to look a bit choppy in the midfield, trying to fit offensive pieces together. The half finished at 1-0.

The second half started out oppositely - South Africa were a little slow to get their feet under them, while the Americans pressed their advantage. Carli Lloyd subbed in for Lindsey Horan and tried to push into the attack, but her overall performance throughout the half perhaps pointed to this being her first game back after a long MCL rehab.

Alex Morgan was fairly isolated as well, and US possession was no crisper, continuing to limit opportunities on goal. The US earned even more corners, none of which yielded fruit.

The subs started flowing in the 68’, when Ali Krieger came in for Alex Morgan, which pushed Kelley O’Hara up into the rid mid and shifted Dunn more centrally in the attack. Krieger’s workrate remains good as ever, but she had the same trouble as her teammates at holding the ball.

A flurry of late subs came in the last ten minutes, with Whitney Engen in for Julie Johnston in the 81’, Heather O’Reilly for O’Hara in the 82’, and Samantha Mewis for Pugh in the 87’. Engen and O’Reilly were like-for-like subs while Mewis allowed Allie Long to push higher and sent Carli Lloyd drifting more to the left.

The US would not have as many good chances as they did in the first half and didn’t finish the chances they did get, while the South African defense stayed compact in front of their goal and swarmed any attempts to send the ball early for runners, leaving the game to finish at a well-fought 1-0.

It wasn’t a pretty game from the US, and South Africa put up good, organized resistance without seeming to tire too much at the end, which has long been one of the gambits the US likes to keep in its back pocket when games aren’t going their way. Mal Pugh looked quick and composed, even more so than Crystal Dunn, who looked good herself. Christen Press did her best to create behind a line of higher players. But everyone seemed a bit disconnected and off the beat.

Then again, Ellis’ goals for today don’t seem to have been about racking up a huge scoreline, but about getting everyone on the field and seeing what happens.

Worrisome this close to the Olympics? Not necessarily. The US has had average performances in friendlies and then gone into a tournament and performed well before. Even in the World Cup last year, it took them all of group stages to really warm up.

The United States will next play Costa Rica on Friday, July 22 in Kansas City, Kan.