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Alex Morgan brace helps lift USA past Mexico 4-1

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The forwards are just fine. A couple of questions elsewhere on the field.

Mexico vs United States Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images

Starting XI: Alyssa Naeher, Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson, Abby Dahlkemper, Emily Sonnett, Andi Sullivan, Lindsey Horan, Morgan Brian, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh

The United States came stampeding out of the gate as they opened up the first of two friendlies against Mexico. They got on the scoreboard in a rush, Mal Pugh scoring in the 6’ off an assist by Megan Rapinoe, who was herself fed a neat little ball by Alex Morgan. Morgan was clearly feeling it throughout the first half, dancing around the box in an effort to help break the defensive line.

The US put a lot of pressure on that back line, constantly looking to funnel the ball to someone in a central cone in front of the goal. If it wasn’t Mal Pugh shuttling the ball into the final third with speed, it was Crystal Dunn pushed so high out of left back that this was essentially a 3-4-3 formation for most of the half. Pugh was a constant threat, leaving behind Mexico’s midfield and transitioning everyone into the final third nearly every time she had the ball. Lindsey Horan pushed higher as well, trying to give the front line an extra option to punch through and pounce on that centering ball. It made for a pretty high-energy and somewhat frantic first 20 minutes or so, but eventually both sides settled in. Mexico in particular stayed pretty cool under intense pressure and despite the heavily lopsided possession, kept a sharp lookout for sloppy passing and picked their moments to press.

That often came in the form of Andi Sullivan, who did not have a good first half, whether it was making a hash out of her first touch or giving away a pass. She was a ripe target for Mexico to exploit, although she did buckle down and win some physical one-v-ones. Still, Mexico could have tied it up at least once, and there was definitely a heart-stopping moment when Alyssa Naeher appeared to forget what she was doing in the middle of coming out for a Mexico corner kick, the latest in a series of at least once-a-game headscratchers from a GK who in years past has been heralded for her steady hand at the helm.

Farther upfield, the US looked more in control of their midfield, with some good movement and one- and two-touch passing, even as space tightened around them the closer they got to Mexico’s 18. Pugh, Morgan, and Rapinoe all looked fantastic, and could be the set front three for the foreseeable future. Pugh in particular was pulling lots of strings, driving the tempo at the top, and generally looking like the biggest US threat on the field.

The second half was when the US blasted the scoreline wide open. It started off with Alex Morgan winning a penalty as she was brought down (very lightly, it must be admitted) in the box. In a bit of trivia, Morgan scored her very first penalty for the United States and made it 2-0. A penalty must have felt unsatisfying to her though, because Morgan immediately went roaring down the field again, beating her defender to gather up a good, simple feed from Lindsey Horan, and then scoring from her usual bonkers steep angle to make it 3-0 in the 53’.

Mexico didn’t have time to do more than take a few deep breaths before Carli Lloyd was wide open in their box and making it 4-0 with her first touch. Lloyd had subbed in for Andi Sullivan and both she and Horan managed to take advantage of a Mexico defense that looked like it was still trying to rally back after the last goal.

Mexico clawed one back in the 64’ off a goal by Katie Johnson. It was Alyssa Naeher’s second howler of the night, but this time it resulted in a goal as Johnson beat Naeher to the ball as Naeher made a mad dash off her line. Johnson chipped the ball in to make it 4-1.

Jill Ellis made a flurry of subs after this. Morgan Brian and Megan Rapinoe came out in the 71’ for Allie Long and Savannah McCaskill. Then Mal Pugh and Alex Morgan came out in the 77’ for Becky Sauerbrunn and Ashley Hatch. Sauerbrunn went back into the defense, which shifted Tierna Davidson out left and pushed Dunn up into Pugh’s spot, pairing her with Hatch in what was loosely a 4-4-2.

All the subs and positional shifts made for a less harmonious XI, although individually there were still some strong moments. Horan and Long both made some cool-headed choices to stay steady in possession, slow down the tempo, and look for space. But at 4-1 with the last 20 minutes peeling off the clock, the game slowed, the field opened up, and the US went from bumrushing to poking at the Mexico defense. Full time ended at 4-1 despite a wonderful last-minute opportunity for Ashley Hatch, fed by Crystal Dunn once again winning space with speed and centering the ball. Hatch’s touch was off and she sent it wide before the ref blew her whistle.

This was a pretty fun game to watch, as blowouts go. Pugh, Morgan, and Rapinoe were having a good time and Morgan and Pugh are both on track to have a lights-out kind of year. The midfield generally looked more composed as a unit than it was during SheBelieves, although Sullivan had a below average night. The defense was fine, adjusting to having Dunn and Sonnett shoehorned a bit into unusual positions. Naeher was probably the biggest question mark of the night; she was steady during SheBelieves, but against Mexico fluctuated wildly between competent and looking lost. Naeher is decidedly better than this, but something has discombobulated her. Whether that’s a coaching situation or simply Naeher sweating under pressure or some combo of the two, Ellis needs to sort it out.

The United States next plays Mexico on Sunday, April 8 at 1:30 PM ET at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston. The game will air live on FOX.