The US Women’s National Team once again started out in a 4-3-3, albeit with quite a few player swaps. Coming into the forward line were Christen Press and Lynn Williams, replacing Megan Rapinoe and Mallory Pugh (out with the injury suffered in the previous match). In the midfield, Lindsey Horan came in to replace Andi Sullivan (who returned to Stanford after her 45 minutes in the first game). And in the defense, Sofia Huerta earned her first start at right back, while Ashlyn Harris got her first chance in goal after a long run of starts by Alyssa Naeher.
After a year with a lot of tactical shuffling, we've seen only small variations in this setup over their past five games. The continuity in formation suggests that Ellis has, at least for the moment, settled on this as her preferred approach.
The US started strong with a firm grip on possession as South Korea dropped back and packed their final third. It didn’t take long to find the net with the first goal coming in just the third minute. After Christen Press earned a corner on a lofted ball over the top, the US scored off the set piece, with Sam Mewis rising unmarked to find a Dahlkemper ball at the far post.
They nearly scored again in the 7th minute, out of virtually nothing, with a soft cross into the box mishandled by Kang Gaae, the Korean keeper, who almost sent it directly into her own net.
Things settled a bit for the next ten minutes with the US dominant in possession and South Korea setting back deep to defend. While the US wasn’t able to find much in the way of penetrative attacks, they still came close several times in this period off a run of corners.
But the next goal eventually came through the run of play, with Mewis finding the net for the second time in the 20th minute, firing home after a poor punch from Kang set the ball right to her at the top of the penalty box. The chance started with Mewis too, she sent a wonderful diagonal ball to Short down the left flank and then raced in to score the resulting chance.
After a half hour, the US tweaked their formation with Press and Morgan swapping spots. There was no obvious reason for the switch, though perhaps Press wasn’t finding as much of the ball as they would have liked. Whatever the reason, the switch seemed to work, and Morgan picked her out in the 35th minute and Press arced a glorious ball over the keeper and into the top of the net.
South Korea almost got one back in the 41st minute with Lee Geum-min nicking the ball off Dahlkemper, who was then slow to turn and catch up to the attack. Only a fine save from Harris kept the shutout intact.
The half then closed out with yet another US goal from yet another Ertz header off a corner. This time the ball was delivered to the top of the box where Horan was able to knock it forward to Ertz, who beat the keeper at the far post.
It was a fitting end to a half defined almost entirely by the physical dominance of the US side, who bullied Korean players off the ball and were close to unstoppable on set pieces.
The US made five halftime substitutions: bringing on Jane Campbell in goal, Crystal Dunn and Megan Rapinoe in the attack (replacing Press and Morgan), and Allie Long and McCall Zerboni in the midfield (replacing Mewis and Sauerbrunn, with Ertz dropping into the backline).
The biggest news in those changes was certainly the appearance for Zerboni. Just a couple months shy of 31, Zerboni set a new record for oldest player to earn their first cap, breaking the record set two years ago by Gina Lewandowski.
The US remained in control to open the second half, with Long and Dunn in particular finding a lot of time on the ball. However, South Korea seemed to grow a bit more into the game as their substitutions gave them a bit more of a physical presence.
However, the US were able to find the net again in the 61st minute off an ugly giveaway on the Korean back line. Rapinoe stepped in to grab the ball easily, took a touch, and picked out a simple square ball for Williams to bury.
Williams almost scored another just a minute later off of another sloppy play by the Korean defense, but she dragged her shot wide.
The US then made their final substitution in the 64th minute with Carli Lloyd replacing Short. Lloyd slotted in as the center forward with Dunn moving back to left back.
The game ground to a halt a bit after that with a series of fouls breaking up play. Surprisingly, Zerboni bore no responsibility for this development.
Playing as the center forward, Lloyd found herself with several opportunities as the game moved into its final quarter almost connecting with a searching ball from Dunn on the wing and then a few minutes later sending a header off the post after Williams picked her out unmarked at the top of the six yard box. Then, in the 80th minute, after a quick turn she sent a bouncing ball on goal only to see it saved.
But the next US goal came not from Lloyd, but from Allie Long. After a series of balls pinged back and forth across the box which the exhausted Korean defense couldn’t choke off, Horan picked out Long right in front of goal, who buried her chance.
The game closed with a couple modest chances from South Korea. First, Jane Campbell was forced into an awkward save in the 86th minute on a lofted cross that seemed like it might just sneak into the top corner. Then, Korea earned a free kick in a dangerous spot, which Lee Eun-mi sent well over the bar.
In the end, it's difficult to draw too many conclusions from a second match against a developmental South Korean side. But the dominant performance, especially the diversity and range of attacking options working together, suggests that the US Women's National Team has emerged from the doldrums of the first part of 2017.
The next test will be tougher with the US playing Canada in November. But if the team continues to play this well, their unbeaten streak against our neighbors to the north might just stay safe.