Women's soccer got a glimpse into the future as the U.S. women's national team, featuring a lineup of primarily young players, defeated Finland, 3-1, at the Seminole County Sports Training Center in a closed-door match on Feb. 24.
U.S. coach Tony DiCicco will bring his veterans for the rematch Feb. 27 at the University of Tampa. Kickoff is 4 p.m. ET, with the match to be aired live on espn2.
Six players earned their first cap with the national team, while two scored their first international goals, as the USA built a 3-0 lead before allowing a late goal for the final margin.
The U.S. scored its first two goals off set-plays. Notre Dame defender Jen Grubb opened the scoring in the 7th minute with a thundering free-kick that hit the left post and bounced in from 25 yards out. It was Grubb's second international goal in 12 matches.
The USA scored its second goal off a corner-kick in 17th minute as former Portland defender Michelle French sent a driven cross to Samantha Baggett, who met the ball with a glancing header that found the left corner from 10 yards out. The goal was Baggett's first in international play and came in just her second game.
The third goal will be the answer to a trivia question: What U.S. women's national team player scored a goal on her first touch of her first game? Beth Keller, a sophomore midfielder from Clemson University, entered the match in the 68th minute and scored just seconds later when the USA caught Finland off guard with a quickly taken free-kick. French fed Jen Streiffer with a short pass, and the Notre Dame star found Keller in the box, to score from six yards out on her first touch of the ball in a national team uniform.
The young U.S. squad played a crisp match, kept possession well, and out-shot Finland, 13-5 for the game. U.S. goalkeeper Tracy Ducar was forced to make just one save, but could do nothing about Finland's goal, which came on a breakaway in the 83rd minute from Streiffer's Notre Dame teammate Anne Makinen, who rolled her shot into the right corner from 15 yards out.
Players that earned their first caps were Keller, Streiffer, defender Danielle Slaton (Santa Clara), forward Mandy Clemens (Santa Clara), defender Heather Mitts (Florida) and forward Meredith Florance (North Carolina).
"It was a great performance by our young personalities," said U.S. assistant coach Lauren Gregg, who also serves as the head coach of the U.S. U-21 women's national team. "They played with the poise and winning mentality that the U.S. women are known for. Our speed of play was outstanding, despite the fact that Finland hung back a bit and played low pressure."
Three of Finland's players compete at U.S. colleges. Makinen, a First-Team All-America, is one of college soccer's top players for the Irish. Forward Minna Mustonen plays at Franklin Pierce College and forward Susanna Heikari will attend the University of Portland next season.
The win stretched the USA's unbeaten streak on American soil to 47 straight full-international matches, a team record.
"Our front line was very dangerous because of our speed, mobility and finishing ability," added Gregg. "Mandy Clemens and Susan Bush both provided constant danger to the Finnish defense and the playmaking abilities of Laurie Schwoy and Aly Wagner really maximized our attacking qualities."
Following the match this Saturday in Tampa, the USA will return to their residency camp in Orlando for eight days of training before departing for Portugal and the 6th Algarve Cup on March 9th. The USA has been put in Group A of the eight-team tournament and will face Sweden (March 14), Finland (March 16) and Norway (March 18) in first-round play, with a medal game on March 20.
The American women will then return to the USA to begin the "NIKE Road to Pasadena" tour, beginning March 28 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. with a match against Mexico.
Feb. 24 in Orlando, Fla.
USA 3 Finland 1. Goals: Grubb 7, Baggett 17, B.Keller 69; Makinen 83.
USA -- Webber (Ducar, 46), French, Baggett, Slaton (Mitts, 63), Whalen, Grubb (B.Keller, 68), Schwoy (Florance, 46), Wagner (Aldama, 77), Streiffer, Clemens, Bush.
Finland -- Lindell (Kunnas, 79), Makinen, Forssell, Thorn, Uusi-Luomalahti, Kalmari, Uusmalmi (Saario, 75), Julin (Valkonen, 68), Heikari, Nokso-Koivisto (Lappi-Seppala, 68), Mustonen (Ylitalo, 77).
Att.: n/a. (closed-door).
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