The United States women’s national team played out their second friendly against Portugal in Saint Paul much the same as their furst, utterly dominating space and gobbling the lions share of chances. They started off the half working the ball into wide space, often building through Tobin Heath or Morgan Brian, looking to finish on a cross. They also kept up pressure, defending high up the field, even pushing Julie Ertz higher and dropping Mewis behind her at times.
Portugal contracted defensively again, looking hesitant to try and open up their play against the United States, making it hard to see through traffic around the goal. Abby Dahlkemper floated a great ball over all the congestion in the 18’ that dropped near perfectly for Carli Lloyd, but her volley went wide.
Lloyd made up for the miss in the 22’ as she swept up a garbage ball that Portugal was still scrambling to clear. That didn’t open the floodgates, though. Portugal were definitely much more alert to crosses in this game and the United States resorted more to shooting from outside the 18. Portugal’s keeper certainly put together some great saves, including a big double block on both Mewis and the Heath follow up in the 29’, but she couldn’t stop the ref from awarding a penalty. Heath, perhaps with the aid of some small dark arts, earned a penalty kick in the 31’ for a foul just inside the box. Lloyd stepped up and buried it without hesitation to make it 2-0.
But for the rest of the first half, the United States resorted to quick pushes or probing wide play without much in the way of shots on goal.
The second half started off with a block of subs. Sauerbrunn, Sonnett, Heath, and Dunn all came off for Christen Press, Tierna Davidson, Casey Short, and Lindsey Horan. Davidson went left on the back line and Short took up her usual right back position, while Ertz dropped deeper, leaving space in the midfield for Horan. The change created some more movement through the midfield as Horan and Brian played off of each other, but the US still relied on dragging the game wide and building play through the flanks. It wasn’t a bad idea, trying to pull Portugal out of their shell, which they would sometimes do as two or three players swarmed Lloyd whenever she drifted wide.
Horan also kept her head up just outside the box, pinging some hard shots from distance. She was unlucky to have one shot in the 62’ ring the crossbar after finding the shooting lane with a quick juke.
The US made their fifth sub in the 57’ with Mewis off for Mal Pugh; Lloyd also dropped into the midfield to allow for Pugh to slip into the front line, with McDonald now playing centrally. McDonald didn’t get the chance to act as a target for much of the night, usually drawing other players out of position on set pieces or setting up the cross herself. She ended up getting replaced by her North Carolina Courage teammate in the 75’ as Kristen Hamilton came on for her first USWNT, which was arguably the best moment of the night.
Lloyd and Press made for a decent duo along the left side, trying to play each other in quickly and often succeeding at dropping balls well enough to elude Portugal’s back line. But neither of them was quite able to put a finishing touch on the ball.
The game picked up again in the last 10 minutes, first as Ertz made a hockey goalie stop on the ball to break up Portugal’s drive and restart play. Portugal’s only resort to stopping her was to literally attempt to drag her back by holding on to her with both arms. But the USWNT kept up the quick buildup from deep, which earned them a corner kick in the 83’. Press took the corner and Lindsey Horan slipped freely through Portugal’s zone to find the header and make it 3-0.
That’s how the game ended, although not for lack of trying from Hamilton, who seemed fine in the fifteen minutes we got from her. It would be a shame if she didn’t get further opportunities to see where she fits in with the forward pool. It would also be nice to see the USWNT connect more through open play in their upcoming friendlies against South Korea; tonight they got a garbage goal, a penalty, and a set piece finish, but with a midfield as crazy good as the US has, in almost any configuration, they certainly have the ability to build very quickly through the middle and exploit defensive gaps.