In their first game action since they captured the inaugural SheBelieves Cup trophy, the latest camp cohort of the United States Women's National Team faced off against Colombia on a freshly-plowed pitch in Connecticut. Unseasonably cold temperatures and slightly icy field conditions made for tricky cleat selection, but once the Americans found their footing, there was no stopping them.
Hope Solo made a few routine saves to preserve a clean sheet for the hosts, but six Americans struck the back of the Colombian net to tally seven goals.
USA 1-0 COL
Following a fairly even first twenty minutes, the US attack found its stride down the middle, with Kelley O'Hara collecting a deflected Tobin Heath shot and finding Heath again unmarked in the box. Heath's subsequent shot was deflected directly to Carli Lloyd, who took a touch across the field before hooking a pass across her body to Crystal Dunn. The pass missed Dunn, but the defender's touch gave the ball directly to the diminutive striker. She fended off her marker, poked the ball net-ward into space and followed immediately behind before striking past the keeper.
USA 2-0 COL
A few short minutes later, Lindsey Horan sent a perfect cross into the box. Allie Long headed the ball home to score her first international goal for the USWNT. Long had been in an offside position, but snuck back outside her marker just prior to Horan's pass. Carli Lloyd was lurking behind Long, and would probably have knocked the ball home had Long been unable to rise sufficiently to connect. NWSL fans are going to enjoy watching Horan and Long work the midfield of the Portland Thorns this season.
USA 3-0 COL
If the second goal seemed to arrive quickly, the third was struck without any delay at all. Barely a minute after Long's goal, Mallory Pugh found a seam and made an instinctive run into the box where she was greeted by a perfect Carli Lloyd pass. Pugh kept the ball under her body and away from everyone else before poking the ball quickly past the onrushing keeper. Lloyd's pass was made possible by her tenacious effort to gain and keep possession prior to dribbling across the top of the box and spotting Pugh's run. It's impossible to watch a match and not be reminded that Mallory Pugh is 17 years old. This play exemplifies why she belongs in the side. Her ability to read the game and find open space while keeping her body in perfect control is very advanced.
USA 4-0 COL
Pugh is human, however, and was dispossessed after attempting to pass her ball through traffic. The ball squirted to Crystal Dunn, who returned it quickly to Pugh. Mallory drew her defender in before exploding towards the end line, pulling three defenders in her direction and thereby opening a space for Lloyd to enter in front of goal. Pugh's pass sliced past seven yellow and one green jerseys before finding New Jersey's Carli Lloyd, who redirected the ball into the net for the easy finish. On the scoresheet, that's now one Lloyd assist to Pugh goal, and one Pugh assist to Lloyd goal. Balance in the attacking midfield is hard to stop.
USA 5-0 COL
I'm not sure I spend enough time extolling the virtues of Becky Sauerbrunn. I'm not sure anyone does, really. But "Broon" is one of the MVPs on this team. I'm sure she made a mistake once. I can't remember it. Anyway, behold the Broon brilliance as her spot perfect 30-yard rainbow header feeds Crystal Dunn in stride. Dunn lets the ball pass her as it settles and she positions her body to lob a beautiful cross to the completely unmarked Tobin Heath. Tobin's finish is a tad Karate Kid crane kick-esque: flawless with a flourish. I'd like to see her arms come up in a wing position, but still, this is top class stuff. Note to Colombia: you can't surrender half the pitch to Tobin Heath. She'll eat you for dinner.
USA 6-0 COL
If she was looking to make an impression on Jill Ellis, Allie Long could not have hoped for a stronger performance. On a tricky corner kick play, Tobin Heath shot a low ball to the feet of Christen Press. Press couldn't connect on her one timer left-footed strike attempt, and the ball popped up moving across the field rather than towards the goal. The Colombian defender, however, helpfully botched her clearance, sending a high ball towards a spot past the far corner of her own goal. Birthday girl Julie Johnston muscled her way into position on the end line, and headed the ball back to Allie Long in front of goal. Long's header found the net, thereby notching the only brace for the team. Had a 30-yard zinger she'd unleashed prior to her first goal not have deflected off the Colombian crossbar, Long might well have bagged a hat trick.
USA 7-0 COL : Mercy, Merci.
Long's street smarts contributed to the final goal as well. Following a Colombian foul, Long touched the ball still, then took a quick free kick, finding Crystal Dunn uncovered and with room to run. Dunn turned quickly and sent the ball forward towards Christen Press, bending it around a defender. Press read the ball, reoriented her body, and struck a first time, bending a powerful shot up and around the diving keeper from just outside the penalty area. Great vision here by both Long and Dunn to set up the chance, but Press had to finish, and she delivered a sparkler.
These two teams face off on Sunday afternoon outside of Philadelphia. That match has been sold out since shortly after it was announced. Based on this performance, the fans should enjoy themselves.
Thoughts / Questions:
1. I wanted to see more from Crystal Dunn at the international level, and did. I have some concerns that her stature may not permit her to translate her NWSL success to the top class international stage. Tonight, she held her own against much larger players, and was a catalyst for several scoring chances and goals. Colombia isn't a huge test, but Dunn didn't jump out at me as out of her league tonight.
2. Who is going to Rio? Jill Ellis can only select 18 players to take to the Olympics. There are going to be a few great players left out of the side.
3. Who is the #2 keeper? Hope Solo is the clear #1, but Alyssa Naeher and Ashlyn Harris are both in camp. Only one of them is going to Rio, so shouldn't they both be getting an audition? Nobody doesn't know what Hope Solo can do.
4. Superwoman Christie Rampone is likely to be invited to the next camp, according to Ellis this morning. With Sauerbrunn and Johnston in solid position to start at center back, can Rampone displace Sonnett or Engen or both? Or, might we see a special mini farewell spring tour from the living legend as she retires from international football?
Embedded videos and cover image courtesy of U.S. Soccer/Wazee Digital.