Once again the United States got off to an energetic start as they took on New Zealand in the second of two friendlies. There was some rotation in the lineup, with Rose Lavelle returning and getting a pre-planned 30 or so minutes.
Lavelle looked a little rusty, as to be expected from someone who’s been out for several months and only recently started getting very limited minutes for her club team and hasn’t been in with the national team at all until now. But the rest of the team looked fluid and aware, easily cycling the ball out of the back, winning it in the mid, and slicing passes through New Zealand’s defense or making slashing runs to cut into space in the box.
Julie Ertz was the early boss of the game, bodying everyone off the ball and stepping into passing channels. Mewis showed good awareness, picking out runners while making a few runs herself. Rapinoe and Short were heavily engaged on the left side of the field as the United States most often resorted to flank play, but once again Rapinoe didn’t seem to particularly have a plan in mind when she had the ball. She was very active, but relatively ineffective, which was a shame considering just how far back she and Short were able to pin New Zealand. Short probably spent more time hovering in the attacking third than she actually did defending.
New Zealand managed to finally push out of their own half after 20 minutes, but the US defense fell back decently and resumed corralling the Ferns into their own half. Several times the US deliberately took the ball all the way back to Naeher, pulling new Zealand out, only to have Naeher distribute a good ball into the deep flank space for a quick flick-on and a cross.
The first US sub was in the 33’ as Lindsey Horan came in for Rose Lavelle as planned. For all that she was rusty, Lavelle also looked fairly healthy, good news for the US midfield going forward. As for Horan, she picked up right where she left off against New Zealand last time and scored in the 36’ with a nice header looped off an out-of-position Erin Nayler.
The US was clearly energized by the goal after poking at New Zealand for the better part of the half. The second goal came soon after in the 44’, as Kelley O’Hara started a quick one-touch series out of the back (such as it was - the US back four spent most of the game pressed up against the halfway line) that hit Mal Pugh on the run. Pugh took the ball into the box and finished very calmly past Nayler and the half ended at 2-0.
The United States made three changes to start the second half. Lynn Williams, Taylor Smith, and Alex Morgan ll came on for Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe, and Becky Sauerbrunn. That moved Casey Short to CB with Dahlkemper, while Smith slotted into her RB position and O’Hara went left. Morgan took the top spot in a front three between Pugh on the left and Williams on the right and it immediately paid off as she scored the third goal of the night in the 46’ with her first touch.
New Zealand continued to struggle to get between the US lines; meanwhile Lynn Williams orchestrated the fourth goal for the US in the 55’ as she torched veteran fullback Ali Riley with speed and centered the ball for Pugh. The ball was defended out, but O’Hara got a second bite at it and served it back in, where Williams was waiting to head it into the net.
Sam Mewis came out in the 56’ for Morgan Brian as a like-for-like, and the game did slow down a little bit. Brian still seems unready for full 90s as her rehab over the course of the NWSL season has been slow. That didn’t stop the United States from scoring again in the 69’ as Alex Morgan made it five with an absolute shotgun blast at a tight angle that dinged in off the underside of the crossbar off a nice feed from Pugh.
The final US sub came in the 72’ as Pugh came off for Tobin Heath, who finally returned to the pitch for the first time since injuring her back in early March. Heath looked eager to mix it up, doing her best to take on the left side of the field, although like Lavelle she was understandably rusty and didn’t make too much of a difference. Still, she had some very nice moments working small spaces with Horan and Brian, and the game finished easily at 5-0.
There’s not really much to learn from these two games, although Ellis is surely raring to continue testing a midfield with Ertz and Mewis paired behind Lindsey Horan. Ertz and Mewis are probably the two best DMs in NWSL right now and their ball-winning and passing were both clearly on display for both games. But they were fun, Heath and Lavelle got to dip their toes back into international waters, and no one seems to have been injured, so we can safely tuck these two friendlies away in the long list of USWNT wins.
Next up: another pair of friendlies on October 19 and 22 against South Korea, although the actual marquee event in American woso at that time will be the NWSL championship on October 14. We’ll see how Ellis handles a roster that is potentially 25-30% exhausted from fighting each other in the NWSL final.