The U.S. women’s national team opened its April account with a convincing 4-1 win over rivals Mexico on Thursday night in Jacksonville. USWNT expert John Halloran shares his three thoughts from the match.
April 06, 2018
IN THE FIRST of two April friendlies, the United States women’s national team downed Mexico 4-1 on Thursday night in Jacksonville.
The Americans opened the scoring early, when Mallory Pugh poked the ball home from close range to give the U.S. the lead in the sixth minute. From there, the Americans continued to create chances, but couldn’t find a follow-up goal and the teams ended the half with the score still 1-0.
Coming out of the locker room, however, the U.S. offensive exploded as they added three goals in four minutes just after the break with Alex Morgan scoring twice and Carli Lloyd adding another.
Mexico did manage to pull one back off a defensive breakdown 10 minutes later, but the damage had already been done and the Americans cruised to the lopsided win.
Here are three thoughts from the match.
ALEX MORGAN WAS PHENOMENAL
From the get-go, Morgan looked ready to make an impact on Thursday, battling for loose balls and causing problems for the Mexican defense. She picked up the “hockey assist” on the team’s first goal, feeding Megan Rapinoe in behind El Tri’s backline before Rapinoe would play the ball back across the face of goal for Pugh to finish.
Dropping back to win possession from her position as the team’s lone striker, Morgan created plenty of space and opportunities for her teammates throughout the first half. Then, in the second stanza, she simply took over the game.
Shortly after the break, an adroit Rapinoe saw an opportunity to put Morgan in on goal with a quick throw-in. Mexico’s Annie Meija took Morgan down in the box for a penalty and Morgan then doubled the American lead from the spot.
Only two minutes later, Morgan struck again, this time with a spectacular shot, lashing a left-footed blast just inside the far post from a difficult angle and distance.
Alex Morgan AGAIN!
She kisses it off the post for her second goal of the night. pic.twitter.com/0XOHOljGHA
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) April 6, 2018
The goal, and her play on the night, was reminiscent of Morgan’s 2012 form, when she managed to tally an incredible 28 goals and 21 assists in international play.
MIDFIELD SURPRISINGLY GOOD
With the U.S. missing mainstays Julie Ertz and Sam Mewis to knee injuries, the midfield presented a constant problem for the Americans during March’s SheBelieves Cup. However, on Thursday, the midfield’s spacing, interchange, and technical quality helped the team transition seamlessly through the middle third time and again.
Andi Sullivan played a solid match as the team’s No. 6, while Lindsey Horan and Morgan Brian pulled the strings as the dual No. 8’s. Horan’s performance certainly surprised no one, as she has been in excellent form for both club and country for the last year.
Brian, however, looked markedly better than her performance in the SheBelieves Cup, where she had struggled to make an impact. On Thursday, she produced a subtle, if brilliant, performance, repeatedly combining short combinations that built the U.S.’ transition play.
Part of Brian’s improvement may come down simply to the level of competition with Mexico obviously not on the same level as the teams in last month’s tournament. But Brian is also coming off a long series of injuries in 2017 and may have finally turned a corner in her recovery—an encouraging sign for the depleted American midfield.
AN INCONSISTENT ALYSSA NAEHER
Following the departure of Hope Solo from the U.S. national team at the end of 2016, head coach Jill Ellis decided to go with Alyssa Naeher as her new No. 1 in the net. Originally, Ellis had announced an open competition for the job, but Naeher always earned caps in the more challenging matches and then an untimely injury to Ashlyn Harris put Naeher in firmly as the starter.
In 2017, Naeher struggled. The Americans put forth a series of shaky performances in that spring’s SheBelieves Cup—albeit largely because of Ellis’ defensive experiments—and Naeher spent most of the year looking shell-shocked as a result.
By the fall, the goalkeeper’s form seemed to be coming back and she looked strong this spring in last month’s SheBelieves Cup.
However, and for whatever reason, that form has slipped away. On the club level, Naeher has been put in a new position, being responsible for building possession out of the back. That change has produced a series of shaky performances for the Chicago Red Stars and she has clearly not looked comfortable with the ball at her feet on repeated occasions.
On Thursday, the same proved true with the U.S. The goalkeeper made a series of questionable decisions and poor passes out of the back which could have been disastrous. On Mexico’s goal, while the entire American defense broke down, Naeher was caught well off her line when it looked like her center backs would have recovered into the play if she had been more patient and disciplined.
The Naeher stuff is confounding to me and honestly kinda painful for a Boston fan. My current theory is WNT staff are working hard on making her more aggressive as a GK and it’s just not integrating well w her steadier, more conservative style?
— thrace???? (@thrace) April 6, 2018
Going forward, it now seems obvious that Ellis needs to open the job up to new competition. Perhaps that means giving long-time back-up Ashlyn Harris more minutes. Perhaps it means looking at youngster Jane Campbell or going further down the depth chart to give Adrianna Franch a more serious opportunity.
Ellis has already missed an opportunity, spending the last 18 months giving Naeher the vast majority of caps and not developing a Plan B. With over a year until the 2019 World Cup, it’s time to get that plan in motion.
The U.S. plays Mexico again on Sunday in Houston (1:30 p.m. ET, FOX).
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.