The United States women’s national team started out sloppy, but after the first 35 minutes they took off and dropped the New Zealand Football Ferns 5-0 in their penultimate game before the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Head coach Jill Ellis seemed to put her preferred starting lineup on the pitch, but every one of these players needs to earn their spot with Sam Mewis fighting to make the first team. The substitution pattern shows that O’Hara, Horan, and Rapinoe are all being eased back into action as they come back from injury.
Just like the match against South Africa on Sunday, the United States started out slow against New Zealand. After a solid first minute for the USA, it was New Zealand who got the first quality look at goal of the match. A bit of shaky defending left New Zealand with the ball just 12 yards from goal. The shot was skied over the bar, but it was nonetheless dangerous and probably should have been scored.
After the brief danger, the United States took over possession for the next 30 minutes, but there was a lack of cohesion between players in the attacking third. Too often it was Heath or Rapinoe taking on a group of New Zealand defenders and either being dispossessed or sending a wanting ball into the box. The Ferns were playing an extremely defensive brand of football, and there were times when they forced a dangerous turnover but couldn’t press the advantage because there were eight players behind the ball. In all, it was a sloppy half hour for the United States and it renewed the worries about our inability to break down a deep blocking squad. With three or four players standing even with the defensive line, it’s hard to create much ball movement.
The first real opportunity for the USWNT came when Dunn took the ball on the left side and decided to attack her defender. She drove at the end line and sent a hard ball at Morgan near the top of the six-yard box. Morgan was able to get a piece of the ball to direct it on frame, but New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler was able to parry the ball wide of goal.
Then, finally, in the 35th minute the United States got on the board. Morgan took the ball in the center above the New Zealand penalty box, and she found Rapinoe in space on the left side. She took the pass in stride and sent a low, rolling pass that curled around the defense and found Heath in open space at the back of goal. There was absolutely no chance for it to be saved once it reached her, and the USA was up one goal to nil.
And with that, the floodgates were opened, and the next goal would come just 5 minutes later when Horan whipped the ball in and Lavelle was able to get her foot on it and beat the goalkeeper for the second USA goal of the match. The pass from Horan was a thing of beauty as it rose up over the defense and dove back down, and Lavelle was able to keep the ball low when many players would have hit the ball an instant too late and sent it high.
After halftime we saw one substitution with Sam Mewis coming in for Horan, who is working her way back to full health. Mewis had a moment just minutes after hitting the pitch when she passed to Rapinoe in open space, but the shot with her left foot found the netting outside of the goal. It was quite clear, from the beginning of the half, that New Zealand was gassed.
In the 60th minute, Jill Ellis made two more substitutions. Rapinoe came out to make way for Carli Lloyd, but the big change was O’hara switching out for Ali Krieger and her 100th career appearance. It’s pretty amazing for her to be on the roster, as it seemed that Ellis had misplaced her contact information for the last two years. The substitutes would make an immediate impact, with Mewis taking on a New Zealand midfielder to break an attack. She passed the ball right to Heath who sent it to Lloyd in the box, and Lloyd scored with her first touch of the match. It was a classically quick strike from the Americans, and it helps cement Lloyd as a valuable offensive sub.
In the 71st minute it was time for another trio of substitutes. Allie Long, Mallory Pugh, and Christen Press all hit the pitch while Morgan, Ertz, and Heath went to the bench. The game was firmly in hand by this point, but the Group Stage necessitates the bludgeoning of opponents in case the best two teams tie.
The substitutes did it again in the 83rd minute. Long stole the ball away in the midfield and passed out wide to Press. She drove past the defense and sent a perfect cross into the box. Lloyd had to do very little to redirect it on frame for her second goal of the night; the fourth for the USA. Lloyd has scored three goals in the past two games. The ease with which the USA was able to break the defense down in the second half is indicative more of New Zealand’s exhaustion than the offensive prowess of the United States.
Oh, and then Sam Mewis got in on the fun with a cracking shot from 25 yards out that took a deflection and snuck into the left side of goal. It was her third goal in two games as well. Mewis has definitely picked up a reputation for taking low, hard shots from distance than trick the goalkeeper and stay hidden until it’s far too late. It’s a good feeling to know that the Americans have a world-class midfielder sitting in the wings in case of injury, but gosh it’s hard not to want Mewis in the starting lineup.
The second half was certainly fun, but there wasn’t a whole lot to take away tactically. It looks easy when you’ve got more energy and more talent than your opponent, and there’s a fair bit of worry to be taken away from this match.
For one, the United States looked well neutralized in the first half hour. Not every team is going to lose as much steam as New Zealand did, so the ability to get out on top early is important. It’s certainly not the only way to win soccer games, but the sloppy play that has now been showcased to start the last two matches would certainly be capitalized on by teams like Australia or France. Everyone on the squad is still working towards comfort and fitness, but things need to tighten up against Mexico in 10 days. We need more off-ball movement to distract defenders and prevent Heath from feeling like she needs to dribble through six players. She can do it because she’s amazing, but it’s a lot more risky than a quick give and go.
In all it was a fun match and little more. No blood this time, so that’s good.