The United States women’s national team (USWNT) continued their unbeaten streak through the end of their 2016 schedule with a 5-0 win over Romania in the team’s final match of the year.
The two teams previously met on Thursday night, a 8-1 win for the USWNT. Sunday night’s match did not start out much like Thursday night at all. While the USWNT did once again dominate the first half in regards to possession and shots (11 shots to Romania’s 0), they failed to finish all but one of their chances on goal.
Crystal Dunn had a ball deflect off a Teodora Meluta, a Romanian defender, for an own goal and managed to knock in a second one just before half time, but she had previously skied one shot and sent another one wide of the near post early in the half. Lynn Williams, the 2016 NWSL Golden Boot winner, also had a shot sail just wide of the far post when she was in front of a wide open goal.
Dunn, who was one of the fastest, most dangerous players on the field for the U.S. did finally find the back of the net in first-half stoppage time when Christen Press sent a beautiful pass through to her and Dunn buried it for the first true goal for the U.S. The USWNT went into the half leading 2-0, compared to Thursday night’s 5-1 lead at the half.
One reason for the lack of U.S. goals compared to Thursday was the change in tactics and formation by the Romanian team. At times they had as many as six players on the back line, clearly bunkering down against the U.S. attack, a tactic that has proven quite effective against the USWNT in past times.
As she did Thursday night, head coach Jill Ellis started the second half with a number of substitutions. Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger and Julie Johnston subbed in at the start of the half and the effect was immediate. Krieger and Johnston joined Becky Sauerbrunn on the three-player back line, and their experience and defensive-mindedness was noticeable. The trio defended better and had more confidence pushing up and moving the ball into space, unlike when Allie Long and Casey Short were on the back line.
Alex Morgan’s presence up top also took away the interchangeability of the front three, a trade made for having such a strong attacking presence as Morgan on the field. Dunn being subbed off partway through the second half also weakened the attack, but Press remained a bright spot in the front for the USWNT.
In fact, it was Press who put the USWNT on the board first in the second half, driving the ball down the middle before sending a pass out wide to Tobin Heath. Heath moved the ball forward before passing back to Press, who quickly took a shot to increase the U.S.’s lead to 3-0.
After Romania was called for a handball in the box, the USWNT was awarded a penalty kick, which Morgan Brian easily converted to add to the U.S.’s lead. The final goal came in second-half stoppage time when Tobin Heath took a short corner kick for the U.S., playing the ball to Kelley O’Hara. O’Hara sent a cross in, and Samantha Mewis headed it in for the USWNT’s fifth and final goal of the night.
When the final whistle blew, it was once again an easy victory chalk full of goals for the USWNT. The USWNT end the year, one that was marred by Olympic heartbreak, on a high note and now can look forward to 2017.