Starting XI: Alyssa Naeher, Crystal Dunn, Tierna Davidson, Becky Sauerbrunn, Emily Sonnett, Lindsey Horan, Julie Ertz, Rose Lavelle, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Christen Press
The United States played out its first friendly against Chile much the way you’d expect a game between #1 and #39 to go: the US had more than the lion’s share of possession and chances, but Chile managed to pop a few balls into the United States’ defensive end.
The US was looking for a goal from the jump, with Lavelle often picking up the ball in tons of midfield space (a theme for much of the game) and looking for the setup, either picking out Press wide or serving a through ball. The defense was pressed high almost the entire first half, often with the entire back line starting to encroach on Chile’s final third. Becky Sauerbrunn had the task of stepping up to attempts at midfield play and cut out plenty of Chilean possession to keep the US in attack mode.
Lavelle’s early surge fell off throughout the first half, although that simply meant Ertz and Horan began to dig into the midfield. Ertz kept surging forward, driving through the center of the pitch, although she didn’t draw as much attention from Chile’s back line as she might have wanted in order to open up some space for Morgan or Press. In fact, Chile’s defense did a decent job of swarming in the box any time Morgan tried to face up to goal, and Ellis’ preference to have her fullbacks engage high and put in crosses did not come to fruition, particularly not through Dunn. Dunn did some defensive work, winning one-v-one battles, but she and Tobin Heath were not on the same page and the two of them gave up the ball when they tried to combine for the cross.
Still, pressing as much as the United States was, they kept earning corner kick after corner kick, and one paid off quite early as Heath put in a ball and Tierna Davidson earned just enough space off her defender to get her head on it and put it past the goalkeeper. That made it 1-0 in the 8’.
The next goal did not come until 32’ - perhaps it’s churlish to complain about having to wait 24 minutes for another goal, but given how overwhelmingly better the US was on sheer talent and fitness, they really should have managed something from open play.
Still, Heath once again put in a nice ball, which Ertz picked up near post and flicked. Chile’s Guerrero couldn’t turn the ball away and bundled it into the goal to make it 2-0 off an own goal.
The US struggled through the rest of the first half to really create a chance from open play. Either Morgan was being guarded too closely in the box or Heath or Press couldn’t pick out a seam in the defense for their long range shots, or Chile’s goalkeeper Endler simply came up big with the save, like the one on Heath’s near-post knuckler in the 37’.
There was a strange moment near the end of the half as Heath earned a penalty. Press stepped up to the spot and placed it nicely in the side netting. The ref called the goal back, though, probably for encroachment into the box. The only problem with that is the ref awarded a free kick, but given that Press scored, there is no scenario where that is the correct call.
Despite some sharp words from US players, the scoreline stayed at 2-0 as the teams went into halftime.
Ellis made four subs to start the second half, pulling Morgan, Heath, Horan, and Lavelle and putting on Carli Lloyd, Mal Pugh, McCall Zerboni, and Morgan Brian. Press shifted left and Pugh went right, with Lloyd the center forward. Ertz shifted up with Brian while Zerboni dropped into a DM role.
Lloyd was on the attack constantly, clearly eager to bag a goal. She drifted across the box and took a left-footed shot in the 56’ that rang the bar, then had a header disallowed in literally the next minute.
Press finally got her own goal in the 59’ off a really nice buildup from the United States. Morgan Brian was sitting in plenty of space in midfield; she fed Pugh, who put in a cross on the ground, and Press pounced on it far post, roofing it into the net to make it 3-0.
Brian looked pretty good, setting up a as a ball-winner and attacking midfielder who stayed composed and kept Pugh in the mix. Pugh created a lot of service from the right, which was a bit lacking in the first half.
Sam Mewis came on for Dunn in the 61’, shifting Ertz back to CB with Sauerbrunn and pushing Davidson into the LB role. Davidson did a decent job there, pushing forward more than Dunn was able to in the first half, although she had the benefit of a tired Chile who in the second half were fending off US pressure at every turn. They managed one decent breakout in the 76’, putting a ball over, but Sauerbrunn was there to cover so Naeher could come collect the ball.
Lloyd made herself an open target on every US corner, but couldn’t get her head on the ball just right. She had an absurdly powerful attack in the 87’ when she literally pounded the ball at goal three times in one minute, but Endler was up to the task.
The game ended at 3-0, and Chile probably counted themselves a bit lucky that it wasn’t four or five instead. Yes they defended with plenty of grit, at least during open play, but the United States also flubbed a lot of chances and didn’t engage flank play enough to truly take advantage of Morgan as a target. There were good ideas from Lavelle and Brian in midfield, but lack of execution on the final ball. At one point there were at least five US players hovering throughout Chile’s back line, all of them watching the midfield for a ball in, but no one moving to try and actually pull Chile’s defense out of shape. It was a bit sloppy from the US to be honest, but they had unmatched individual skill on the ball and, of course, their fitness.
The United States will play game two against Chile next Tuesday, September 4, at Avaya Stadium. The game will air live on ESPN2 and UDN.