In the second of two international friendlies between the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) and the Colombia Women’s National Team, the U.S. once again emerged victorious, outscoring the South American team 3-0.
The match, which was played before a sell-out crowd at Talon Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, looked very different from Wednesday night’s match despite a few commonalities.
Once again the U.S. came out strong, dominating possession and outshooting Colombia 23-3.
Christen Press had a number of opportunities to score, but her best chance came in the 27’ when Lindsey Horan centered the ball from the left flank to Press. Press one-touch volleyed the ball over Colombian goalkeeper Catalina Perez as she came off her line to try to stop the shot. The ball bounced into the net before a Colombian defender could get there to block the shot, and the U.S. took the lead.
Julie Johnston was the other goal scorer for the U.S., scoring both of her goals off of Tobin Heath set pieces.
Johnston’s first goal came in the 42’ as Heath sent in a free kick from about 28 yards out on the right side of the field. Johnston came streaking forward as Heath took the kick, stretching out to toe a volley up and over Perez for the goal.
Her second goal came in the 79’ when Heath lined up another free kick five yards out from the end line. Heath sent in a low cross, and Johnston dove and flicked the ball off her head, towards the far post and into the goal for the brace.
Overall, the U.S. did not play as well as they did on Wednesday night. The somewhat experimental lineup was a factor in the quality of play from the U.S. as the starting XI once again lacked chemistry, a common problem the team has faced in 2016.
To the relief of many of her critics, Head Coach Jill Ellis started backup goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher in goal despite her tendency to play Hope Solo regardless of the quality of opponent. Wednesday night’s 7-0 shutout must have been enough to give Ellis the confidence to give Naeher, who has just recently emerged as the #2 goalkeeper to Solo, her sixth cap and a full 90 minutes between the posts.
Allie Long, who made a noticeable impact in only her fifth cap with the U.S. WNT on Wednesday night, was left on the bench at the start of Sunday’s game in favor of Samantha Mewis. Long was subbed in for Lindsey Horan in the 61', but was relatively invisible on the pitch compared to her dynamic performance in the last match.
Ellis said post-game Wednesday that Long and Mewis are in competition with Morgan Brian for the starting six spot in Rio. Brian was unavailable Wednesday night because of a hamstring injury, and although she was expected to be available for today’s match, it was announced prior to Sunday’s match that she had returned to Houston to be with her NWSL team, the Houston Dash, because of the injury.
Alex Morgan was also unavailable for both matches, forcing Ellis to go with a 4-3-3 formation instead of her favored 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formations.
However, it was clear from how high outside backs Tobin Heath and Meghan Klingenberg played that Ellis was once again asking them to play as attacking or wing backs, converting the formation to more of a 2-5-3 or even 2-3-5 for much of the game.
Center back Becky Sauerbrunn, usually the most stable member of the U.S. WNT back line, also floated high in the second half, joining in the attack on a number of occasions while Mewis dropped back to defend.
In the 61’, Ellis made her first substitutions: Whitney Engen came in for Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara came in for Klingenberg and Long for Horan.
Although Engen did not follow Sauerbrunn’s example and push up into the attack, O’Hara shifted comfortably into the attack role. In a much improved performance from Wednesday night, O’Hara possessed the ball well, moving into the final third and trying to create opportunities for the U.S. She had a hard shot on goal in the 76’, but Perez just got a hand on it to send the ball wide.
O’Hara’s experience as a forward at Stanford and for her NWSL club team, Sky Blue FC, seem to make her more willing to press high in the attack, which is why Ellis has favored her over Ali Krieger for much of the year.
Krieger was subbed in for Carli Lloyd, who was hailed as the "hometown girl" since her hometown of Delran Township, New Jersey, is just 30 minutes away from Sunday’s match location, in the 73’. Lloyd was highly ineffective for the U.S. on Sunday, taking a number of bad touches and skying almost every shot she took.
Part of Lloyd’s ineffectiveness was the constant swarm of yellow jerseys around her anytime the ball was near her, but part was also simply Lloyd’s mental game. Lloyd has previously said that she does not let her friends or family attend matches because it interferes with her focus, and that seemed to be the case since it was noted several times throughout the broadcast that she had guests in the stands.
While the standout player of the Wednesday night’s friendly was the U.S.’s Allie Long, Colombian keeper Perez was by far the standout player of Sundays match. Perez was able to get a hand on several shots, limiting the U.S. to just three goals when the match easily could have had a goal line closer to that of Wednesday.
The Colombian defense was also much more solid, keeping the likes of Mallory Pugh, Crystal Dunn, Lloyd and Press from getting more opportunities on goal.
Although Pugh’s speed allowed her to beat her defenders a number of times on the left flank, she repeatedly was stripped of the ball or found herself alone near goal with only Colombian players around. She and the other U.S. WNT attacking players often found themselves double- or even triple-teamed, and even Dunn could not dribble through them all without getting stripped of the ball.
Colombia also was able to move the ball into their offensive half more during the second half of the game, taking two of their three shots in the last 45 minutes. Colombia had some good opportunities, but never seemed to be able to capitalize on any of them.
The U.S. WNT players next return to their club teams for the start of the 2016 NWSL season. The league kicks off its unprecedented fourth season on Saturday, April 16.
The U.S. WNT will reconvene in May for a multi-week training camp. Their next match is against Japan on June 2 in Commerce City, Colorado.
USA – Christen Press (Lindsey Horan) 26th minute
USA – Julie Johnston (Tobin Heath) 42nd minute
COL: 1-Catalina Perez, 3-Natalia Gaitan, 14-Nataly Arias, 2-Carolina Arbelaez, 9-Orianica Velasquez, 5-Isabella Echeverri, 6-Liana Salazar, 15-Tatiana Ariza (7-Nicole Regnier, 87), 4-Diana Ospina (10-Yorely Rincon, 87), 16-Leicy Santos, 11-Catalina Usme (18-Yisela Cuesta, 90+1)