USA-Mexico Women's International Friendly: Americans cruise following stuttery start

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 after midfielder Carli Lloyd scored 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.

The 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 arc.

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, to 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 Adriana Calderon 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.: 14,360.
6 comments about "USA-Mexico Women's International Friendly: Americans cruise following stuttery start".
  1. R2 Dad, April 6, 2018 at 9:46 a.m.

    Good write-up, Ridge. I thought Mexico was off yesterday. Their passingl was labored and they gave us possession so that relieved pressure on our back line, which makes for a much easier task. The early Pugh goal settled down our players, but this could have been a different match. I watched Rapinoe dribble into a dead end--it was one play but wonder why such an experiened player still does that. I think the USWNT needs more experience playing with 10 on the pitch.

  2. Bob Ashpole, April 6, 2018 at 11:25 a.m.

    I like Aly Wagner's commentary. She focused on the USWNT taking their play to the "next level" meaning dominating the game like in the classic Dutch style principles.

    In that regard, the first 20 minutes of the match were very promising. The tactical speed of US play was very fast, completely outclassing the opponent. I suspect that this reflected the coach's game plan and view of where she wants to take the team. Then, however, the coach made adjustments on the fly essentially to move players forward to take advantage of Mexico's play with only 1 forward. While this is what a coach is supposed to do in a competitive match, this was a friendly. I wonder why the coach did not want to continue the opportunity for the players to gain experience with the original team organization. Whether the coaches changes was the cause or not, the US slowed their tactical speed of play and let Mexico into the game.

    What the coach did during the half I don't know, but the team came back with the fast tactical speed in the second half. Morgan Bryan was brilliant and well served by passes taking advantage of her great movement off the ball.

    Then there is the keeper position. The coach's problem is that people could make a good case that Hope Solo in her prime was the best female keeper in the world. Nobody is saying that about Naeher, Solo's current replacement. Far from it. And that is a problem. (Before anyone gets agitated, this is not a call for the return of Hope Solo. Her playing days ended 2 years ago.)

  3. frank schoon, April 6, 2018 at 12:11 p.m.

    Good grief , guys, Mexico has no defense capabilities, they all watch the ball in front of their goal, instead of keeping an eye on their man and give away so much space. They are slow. That should not have been a penalty, although I have to admit she did a good job on making sure it would be.
    This is not how can judge  how well we play as a team by playing the Mexicans 

  4. Ric Fonseca replied, April 9, 2018 at 10:42 p.m.

    FS, IMHO I find your xenonphobic-like rant against the Mexican ladies
    demeaning and insulting.  I wonder: would you say the same about the Costa Rican, English, Argentine, or Italians?

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, April 10, 2018 at 11:23 a.m.

    Ric, I didn't attribute Frank's conclusions as prejudice, but rather from watching highlights of the 3-minute 3-goal nightmare (for Mexico) in the second half of the first friendly. 

    What Frank apparently doesn't appreciate is that Mexico was facing the best attack in the world of women's soccer with the current 3 forwards who are supported by a midfield capable of supporting them.

    I also suspect that Frank is comparing the Mexico players' quickness and speed to the men's game and not realizing that the physical abilities of most of the US players are not typical of the women's game. Generally speaking women are not as quick as men, which prevents more successful defensive recovery runs.

    Myself, I had more concerns with the US back four, specifically the keeper and fullback positions. Enough has been said about that already. If I was Ellis, I would be looking to add at least 2 young keepers and 2 young fullbacks to the player pool ASAP. 


  6. James Madison, April 14, 2018 at 10:03 p.m.

    Typical discriminatory set of reports---player ratings for the men, but not for the women.  Come on, SA; maybe 23 and Me should get on your case.

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