Frustrated after a stuttery first half Thursday night that yielded a slim 1-0 lead against Mexico, the Americans racked up three goals in four minutes en route to a 4-1 victory in the first of two
friendlies between the border rivals. Alex Morgan
won and converted a penalty kick to double up the lead provided by Mal Pugh
’s sixth-minute goal, then drilled home a
low shot inside the post to open up breathing room that had been lacking as a scrappy Mexican team responded after a poor start. Mexico got a consolation goal from Katie Johnson
midfielder Carli Lloyd
less than a minute from leaving the substitutes’ bench.
The teams meet against Sunday in Houston. Here are three takeaways from the
game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, home of the NFL Jaguars: 1. Pugh pushes, Morgan finishes.
Americans struck early with Pugh’s 10th goal in her 34th international appearance, and though the 19-year-old continues up the learning curve of making the right decisions at crucial moments,
with every game she confirms her stature as a force to be reckoned with.
Pugh’s pace and strength enables her to overpower opponents, as she did to poke home a ball set in her path
by Megan Rapinoe
as the veteran slid to the ground. In the first half, Pugh usually started from wide positions and several times breached the Mexico back line to deliver crosses from the
byline. She also looked for space inside and also used those spaces effectively, though once on a counter she cut halfway across the field before running out of room and options outside the penalty
Yes, a scoring opportunity was lost, but she also showed patience to hold the ball awaiting the right opening. Her mobility allowed teammates, especially Lindsey Horan
trail in her wake and pick up balls in good spots. She also showed her smarts in the second half to help create the fourth goal; from a wide slot on the right, she lofted a cross-field ball that Horan
collected and centered for Lloyd to register her 99th international goal.
Morgan, who didn’t score in three appearances in the SheBelieves Cup, wore the captain’s armband to
start the match and didn’t shirt from that responsibility. An energetic start to the second half produced a second goal when a quick Rapinoe throw-in sent Morgan free to draw a foul by 13.
Morgan steered the PK into the side netting for a 2-0 lead.
She scored again with an elegant ‘S’ run past a defender and emphatic first-time finish of a well-weighted ball
from Horan, a goal reminiscent of many she has scored earlier in her career: she timed her paces and angled her moves perfectly to exploit the space and hit the ball with power and
unerring accuracy. (It bounced over the line off the inside of the post.)
To score goals like this a player needs to excel as a striker as well as a forward, and it is this Morgan the
Americans need to be at her best next summer in France. 2. In advanced role, Horan supports the attack.
Horan was one of several American players to change positions during the match. In the first half, she and Morgan Brian
supported the attack with Andi Sullivan
as the defensive shield in
front of the back line. Horan drifted mostly to the right side to support the runs of Pugh and get balls into the middle for Morgan and Rapinoe.
Horan popped up in several attacking spots
during the second half as a more efficient American attack eradicated the modest gains in momentum Mexico attained during periods before halftime. From the left channel, she delivered the precise ball
that Morgan converted for the third goal, and just a minute later she ranged further into the Mexican half to crisply trap Pugh’s ball on a rather high bounce and serve it up for Lloyd.
The attack lost some juice when head coach Jill Ellis
brought on more subs, yet Horan’s influence didn’t wane. She and Lloyd connected a few more times and she found a good
spot to work with Allie Long
, whose fresh legs and energy helped settle things down after Johnson scored. The Sky Blue FC forward cut through the U.S. back line to run onto a bouncing ball from
and clip it over keeper Alyssa Naeher
. 3. USA shaky at defensive mid and in goal.
Despite grabbing an early goal, the USA didn’t establish control of the game for much of the first half. Mexico’s feisty attackers Stephany Mayor
and Monica Ocampo
slid into gaps and used their skill to create opportunities, and their efforts were aided by some sloppy U.S. play in the middle of the field.
Sullivan scuffed a couple of bad passes and
was forced into a foul when Johnson picked her pocket and set sail for goal. On the ball in the attacking half, Sullivan is very good -- she played a nice ball in the 35th minute for Morgan to fire on
goal -- but with Mexico pressing forward she lost a few challenges. Long provided more defensive stability and stronger tackling, albeit against a fatiguing foe trailing by several goals.
On the goal she conceded, Naeher elected to come off her line and her lunge for the ball carried her outside the penalty area, where touching the ball with her arm would have been a handball and a
likely red card. On the play, she also committed a very basic error: a forward can much easier chip a bouncing ball than one rolling along the ground, and thus the keeper cannot come out so soon.
Naeher had little chance to close down Johnson in time to block the shot and gave the forward yards of space to hit.
Naeher also came aggressively for a corner kick and completely missed
the ball, which fortunately for the USA skipped through the goal area untouched. She might have changed her mind with the ball in mid-flight when a Mexican attacker tried to get a foot on it, but
still she left the goal completely exposed and didn’t come close to touching the ball.
The U.S. keeper caught a few balls cleanly in traffic and needed to make just one save. Yet on
the goal and corner kick she should have been sharper. April 5 in Jacksonville, Fla. USA 4 Mexico 1
. Goals: Pugh
6, Morgan pen. 52, 53, Lloyd 54; Johnson 64. USA --
Naeher; Sonnett, Dahlkemper, Davidson, Dunn; Sullivan (Lloyd 53), Brian (Long, 71), Horan; Pugh (Sauerbrunn 77), Morgan (Hatch, 80),
Rapinoe (McCaskill 71). Mexico --
Henninger; Robles, Mejia (Murillo 57), Sierra, M.Flores (Espinoza 46); Ferral (Calderon 46), Nieto (V. Flores 78), Johnson (Cuellar 76); Ocampo (Sanchez
76), Mayor, Palacios. Att.: