Starting XI: 1-Hope Solo; 5-Kelley O'Hara, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 8-Julie Johnston, 7-Meghan Klingenberg; 23-Allie Long, 20-Lindsey Horan, 10-Carli Lloyd (C); 2-Mallory Pugh, 16-Crystal Dunn, 17-Tobin Heath
Jill Ellis was forced into several changes for this match, as both Morgan Brian and Alex Morgan were game-day scratches due to minor injuries. Both are expected to be available for this weekend's rematch, but their absences today created some options for Allie Long (in her first match since 2014) and Crystal Dunn to fill those roles, both of whom certainly took advantage of the opportunity! Long performed well in a deep-lying midfield role while also notching her first career international goal. Meanwhile Dunn was dominant in the attack, both as goal-scorer and as an impressive creative force.
The XI set up as a somewhat-surprising 4-3-3, with Lloyd, Long, and Horan in the midfield and Pugh-Dunn-Heath playing as forwards. But in practice, the setup was far from rigid, with everyone moving in and out of the attack.
In fact, this was the most exciting aspect of a night that included many highlights. For a team that has often suffered from a lack of fluidity, it was genuinely impressive to see the front six interchanging seemingly at will. The 4-3-3 roughly held true in defense, ensuring protection of the backline, but turned into something almost impossible to defend in the attack. Colombia routinely found themselves losing defensive shape as they struggled to deal with the pace and inventiveness of the US movement.
The first quarter of the match was relatively cagey, with the US clearly dominant, but finding it difficult to break down the Colombian defense. They pressed all across the field and broke up many attacks before they could begin. This period did see two excellent chances from the US, however. One a crossbar-rattler from Allie Long, and the other a point-blank shot from Dunn which was kept out by the stomach of a goal line defender. The latter effort emerged after a brilliant bit of dribbling from Heath, who dazzled three defenders in quick order and delivered the cross.
We you, @TobinHeath! #USWNT #USAvCOL https://t.co/FEO8xGOIW2— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 6, 2016
Once the deadlock broke, however, the deluge came in earnest, as the US unloaded a barrage of goals.
It began with Crystal Dunn in the 27th minute, after a bit of a comedy of errors on the part of the Colombian defense. The play was begun by a good ball from Pugh into Heath, who then attempted to pull the ball back into traffic. Several blocked shots and missed clearances later, the ball found its way into open space, with Dunn ready to pounce. She doesn't miss from those locations, and buried the goal.
Then, in the 32nd minute, the US scored again, in the form of Long's first goal, scored off a smart cross from Horan on the left. This was another defensive letdown from Colombia, who failed to put any pressure on Long as she rose in front of goal.
Just one minute later the third goal poured in, off a beautiful move from Carli Lloyd , who evaded her defenders and then picked out an onrushing Pugh who found a slot to tuck into behind her defender who was caught ball watching.
It was only a few more minutes until the US got its fourth, this time a reverse of the previous one, with Lloyd scoring off a low driven ball from Pugh on the left. In a way, it was a perfectly emblematic move of Pugh's whole game--absolutely brilliant in parts, with just a smidge of exuberance in the mix. She took a chance to move into space and looked absolutely electric, then lost the ball in what appeared to be a moment of indecisiveness. But Dunn quickly recovered and delivered the ball back to Pugh, who took one touch and knocked a well-placed ball into Lloyd.
Halftime brought two substitutions, with Press and Mewis replacing Pugh and Horan. This change was interesting. While Mewis effectively replaced Horan in a like-for-like fashion, Press showed a very different type of presence from Pugh attacking from the wing. Where Pugh tends to drift away from the middle and then burst into space, Press plays a far more possession-oriented role, using her skill on the ball to pick out pockets of space. While this doesn't necessarily capitalize on Press's strength as a striker, it suggests a means for integrating her into the broader attack.
These changes altered the style of the US attack in the second half, though not its results. The attacking moves were less explosive, on the whole, but were more composed and measured. By all rights, they should have scored a fifth goal in the 51st minute, after a delicious set of moves from Christen Press, who took a perfect touch, offered a burst of speed, and then delivered a ball across goal that eventually found itself resting on the penalty spot, teed up perfectly for Lloyd cross across goal. Who then slipped and fell over.
Colombia found it's best chance in the 57th minute, as speculative throughball found itself rolling through open space at the top of the US box, with O'Hara losing her mark. However, the first-time shot (perhaps taken more quickly than necessary) was straight at Solo, who was never going to muff that effort.
After that, it was all US again. A few minutes later, Heath finally got the goal that she deserved, delivering a crashing volley into the top of the net off a cross from Dunn, who did wonderfully to tear through the Colombian defense, drawing yellow jerseys toward her and leaving Heath in absolute acres of space to receive the cross.
The US scored again in the 65th minute, with Long tallying her second of the night after a defensive disaster from Colombia on a corner. A severely mishit clearance found its way to Johnston's head, who sent it back across goal where Long couldn't help but score.
That somewhat ugly goal, however, was followed by maybe the prettiest of the night, a classic curler from the top left corner of the box, a vintage Christen Press goal. Once again, the supplier was Dunn, who seemingly was everywhere tonight.
The final 15 minutes were relatively quiet, with the US remaining dominant, but failing to find way into goal again.
Late substitutions included Sonnett and Engen in the 70th minute, as well as Krieger and O'Reilly a few minutes later. All played well, though none were given the chance for any signature moments.
In the end, the US absolutely dominated a Colombia team who is no slouch. In the World Cup last summer, they beat France, played England very close, and held the US to a small margin. But tonight they looked like CONCACAF opposition in the face of a blistering US performance. And a game that promised a meaningful test instead seems to have offered a chance to show just how great this team can look when everything is clicking.