The United States and Mexico played a rambunctious game, featuring plenty of goals, plenty of chances, plenty of rough challenges, and some questionable defending. The US even briefly trailed, though five unanswered goals to close out the game left things in little doubt by the end.
Sunday showdown in the Lone Star State. Introducing our starting XI.#USAvMEX lineup notes » https://t.co/6f42A7aiQV pic.twitter.com/ANYjRCJCpa— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) April 8, 2018
The US starting XI featured three changes from the first game of the series on Thursday: Jane Campbell making her first career start in goal, Becky Sauerbrunn returning to the lineup in place of Abby Dahlkemper, and Carli Lloyd replacing Andi Sullivan in the midfield. With Lloyd stepping in at the front of the midfield trio, that pushed Morgan Brian back into the holding role, but otherwise the shape looked the same.
The game started hot, with the US unleashing a series of quick passes and searching through balls that gave Megan Rapinoe a look at a cross across the front of goal. The ball rebounded out, giving Lloyd a chance to unleash her 100th goal. It was blocked, but the US came back strong, scoring in the 3rd minute after Morgan Brian found Rapinoe who then slid an inch-perfect pass in front of Mallory Pugh. After rounding the keeper, Pugh slotted it home nicely.
Weighted. To. Perfection.@mPinoe ➡️ @MalPugh pic.twitter.com/IQkoIcjVh7— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) April 8, 2018
The US continued to dominate play for the opening ten minutes, only taking a break for two short injury breaks after Brian went down under a rough challenge and Horan was forced to step off for a minute. Pugh continued to be a constant threat down the right, while Brian did excellent work orchestrating play from her deep-lying position. With Rapinoe drifting inward and Dunn playing as a makeshift wingback, the US split the field wide and Mexico found it very difficult to cope. They seemed to be attempting to compress the field by playing a high line, but constantly found themselves racing back to cover or desperately lunging to intercept a through ball. They had another big chance at the quarter hour mark, with Rapinoe through on goal, but she seemed to think it had been whistled offside and merely tapped a shot directly at the keeper.
It only seemed a matter of time before a second US goal, but when the ball did find the net next, it was Mexico leveling the score. Well against the run of play, they earned a corner. Mónica Ocampo shipped the ball in, which somehow bounced and then skitted into the net without a single US touch. Once again, a solid overall performance from the US was undermined by atrocious set piece defending.
The US immediately sought to retaliate off a deliciously weighted diagonal ball from Morgan, but once again Rapinoe provided a tame effort that was easily collected.
The US problems with set pieces only continued, with Mexico scoring a second goal off a corner in the 24th minute. This time the ball came in high at the far post, where Kiana Palacios shrugged off both Sauerbrunn and Brian to direct it into goal.
Undeterred, the US struck back quickly with a goal in the 25th minute, off a corner of their own. Rapinoe launched it high and deep, finding Horan’s head just behind the penalty spot. Her powerful header easily cleared the keeper and re-leveled the score.
The game saw its first substitution in the 29th minute, with Allie Long coming on for Morgan Brian, who seemed to still be feeling some of the effects from the tough challenge early in the match.
The US made it 3-2 in the 35th minute. After a Rapinoe cross, Horan sent the ball back across goal, when Morgan nearly knocked it in. A goal-line clearance saved the tie for a moment, but only a moment as Carli Lloyd was there to bundle it across. It marked her 100th career goal for the national team, and while it certainly wasn’t one of the prettiest she scored, it was a fitting result for a player whose career has so often been defined by perseverance and an unrelenting will to score.
Not satisfied with simply recovering the lead, the US kept pushing aggressively. Quickly, though, that cost them a player, as Horan came up short racing the keeper and stayed down after the play concluded. She was able to walk off under her own power, but was quickly substituted. Coming on in her place was Haley Hanson, earning her first career cap.
Just a couple minutes later, the US made it 4-2. Once again, Rapinoe played provider, after finding herself some space after Mexico failed to clear a long header. She picked out Morgan crashing on goal, and calmly sent a ball across which Morgan finished through traffic.
After halftime, things started right where they left off, with Mallory Pugh looking to make a break and instead getting hacked down by the Mexican defender. Things settled down a bit after that, however, with each side finding a few chances to work the ball in space, but both defensive lines starting to look a bit more solid.
The US made its third and fourth substitutions in the 59th minute, with Pugh and Davidson exiting in favor of two more first-timers: Tegan McGrady and Hailie Mace. With those changes, Dunn moved up to Pugh’s former position as the wide right attacker, with Mace and McGrady moving into the backline and left wingback positions. One certainly wonders whether Hailie Mace anticipated playing center back in her first National Team cap.
With almost twenty minutes passed in the half, and not a single goal scored, things were starting to get restless. Fortunately, the US shook things back up a bit, thanks to a long goal from Rapinoe, fired into an open net. Yet another through ball found Morgan racing on goal. The keeper came out and did well to block Morgan’s attempt, but her clearance fell right to Rapinoe, who took the opportunity given her and made it 5-2.
The US made its fifth substitution in the 67th minute, bringing on Ashlyn Harris. That closed the book on Campbell, who will probably wish she could get this game back, after making a hash of things on both of Mexico’s goals.
Immediately after the substitution, the US scored once again to make it 6-2. Santiago was able to deny a point blank shot from Allie Long, but on the resulting corner, Morgan scored her second goal. Once again, Mexico called for an offside flag, but the touch had come off a defender before finding its way to Morgan, who didn’t so much shoot as she did let it bounce off her hip.
The final US substitution came in the 75th minute, with Sofia Huerta coming on to face her former team, taking over duties at right back. At this point, the lopsided formation switched, with Huerta now pushing forward and the left back staying back. After the match, Ellis described this approach as “rotating” her fullbacks, and lauded the potential it provided for “expanding tactical flexibility.”
The next five minutes were jam-packed with excitement, led off by Morgan nearly scoring a third, after yet again finding herself on the end of a Rapinoe cross. The next minute, Rapinoe played provider to Lloyd, whose rifled shot from the top of the box was just barely touched aside by Santiago in goal. The US went knocking again a minute later, with Dunn nearly finding an angle on goal, and then almost putting Rapinoe through.
After those frantic five minutes, everything finally settled down a bit. The US continued to dominate possession in the final ten, but with a big less aggression and quickness.
In the end, this was hardly a vintage US defensive performance. But on the attacking side, it was enormously fun, and a good demonstration of just how lethal this squad really is. When all the cylinders were firing, they moved the ball quickly through the midfield, drawing defenders forward, and opening up space for the wide runners to operate in. With excellent games from all three main attackers—especially Rapinoe—not to mention solid work from three first-time players, there was plenty to get excited about here.