In their final Olympic send-off match before departing for the 2016 Olympics, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) defeated the women’s national team of Costa Rica, 4-0, in Kansas City, Kan., on Friday night.
The shutout came as little surprise to USWNT fans, since the U.S. remains untied and unbeaten against Costa Rica and has allowed only two goals in the two team’s history.
As a team that did not qualify for the Olympics, Costa Rica only had a few days together to prepare for Friday night’s match. In comparison, the USWNT has had almost monthly training camps and has played five international friendlies since the Olympic qualifying tournament in February. That put Costa Rica at a severe disadvantage from the get go, and it was obvious from the opening whistle.
Over the course of the night, the USWNT got off 19 shots, seven of which were on goal, compared to just one shot on goal for Costa Rica. Statistically and possession-wise, the game was very one-sided in favor of the USWNT.
However, the match was less about the score and more about giving the team one last competition and confidence boost before heading to Brazil for the Summer Games, which Head Coach Jill Ellis made clear before the game.
"[My hopes for the match are to have] just a good feeling leaving the game, ultimately, coming out of here hopefully everyone healthy, just finding the back of the net a few times would be great, and just overall, this is a game where you’re just kind of getting through it and you’re obviously getting prepared down to Brazil," Ellis told ESPN in a pregame interview.
With those expectations, Ellis had to be pleased with Friday night’s victory. The USWNT found the back of the net four times and despite a yellow card-worthy tackle on Carli Lloyd, who just returned from injury on July 2, the team seemed to come out of the match relatively unscathed. Crystal Dunn did seem to have a slight injury to her calf in the second half of the game, but whether that was simply a cramp or a more severe injury is currently unknown.
Tobin Heath and Morgan Brian, both sidelined during the first Olympic send-off match on July 2, also saw playing time in the second half as they continue recovering from hamstring injuries.
"I think tonight my plan is to get a lot of players on there, not just for the physical purposes, but obviously to give every player an opportunity to get out there and get a run around," Ellis also said before the match.
With the six substitutes allowed in an international friendly, Ellis was able to do just that. Every player on the roster with the exception of Samantha Mewis saw playing time last night. Mewis, one of four alternates for the team, was dressed for the game in the absence of Megan Rapinoe.
Rapinoe tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in December and has yet to see any playing time since. However, she was named to the 18-player Olympic roster after Ellis assessed the progress of her recovery during the team’s July training camp and deemed it sufficient to give her a roster spot. Despite being deemed capable of playing at the highest level once again, Rapinoe did not even dress for the team's last two matches, as she is also currently recovering from a calf injury that Ellis did not want to worsen.
Giving one of only 18 roster spots to a player who is not only dealing with multiple injuries but has not played in a match for her club or country since October is a major point of contention for many fans. Although Ellis claimed that Rapinoe would not play against Costa Rica because the risk was not worth it, many fans are afraid Rapinoe’s recovery is not where it should be for her to be on a major tournament roster. However, veteran winger Heather O’Reilly is an alternate, and Ellis may be using her as a safety net in regards to Rapinoe’s health.
As for the players who did see the field, they played much the same way they have in previous matches. Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn came out attacking early, eyes clearly on goal from the start.
In just the second minute, Pugh stripped Melissa Herrera of the ball along the left flank, broke free of a couple of Costa Rican players and played the ball in to a galloping Alex Morgan at the left corner of the goal box, but a sliding Cristin Granados knocked the ball out of bounds before Morgan could get her foot on it.
Dunn took her first shot of the night in the sixth minute, but it hit the right post and was deflected. However, Dunn would strike again in the 15th minute off of a Meghan Klingenberg cross for the USWNT’s first goal of the night.
Mallory Pugh found the back of the net in the 22nd minute after breaking through three white jerseys and into space down the left flank. She stayed wide and just ahead of her mark until she was just outside of the six, where she took her shot. Carli Lloyd was running into the box to possibly get a foot on it, but there was no need as Pugh’s shot went past Dinnia Diaz and into the back of the net to extend the U.S's lead and for Pugh’s third career goal.
The USWNT’s third goal came in the first half stoppage time after Kelley O’Hara was fouled, earning the U.S. a free kick. Becky Sauerbrunn took the free kick, sending the ball in over a sea of players and right to the head of Carli Lloyd, who headed it just inside of the left post to give the USWNT a 3-0 lead seconds before the whistle.
Jill Ellis made a number of changes for the second half, using the first three of her allotted substitutions at the half. Goalkeeper Hope Solo was replaced by backup keeper Alyssa Naeher, and Whitney Engen came in for Becky Sauerbrunn. Ali Krieger also subbed in for Meghan Klingenberg, shifting Kelley O’Hara from right to left back for the second half.
The second half played out much like the first half but with fewer goals. It was obvious the heat was wearing on the starters, and even the last three substitutions did little to bring much new energy and life to the team.
However, one substitution that did create a spark for the USWNT was that of Christen Press, who subbed in for Alex Morgan. That substitution allowed Press to play in the lone striker position, where she has looked more comfortable and more effective for the USWNT in the past. Friday night was no different when Allie Long one-touched a ball to her just outside the box, and Press turned and fired off a shot right into the bottom corner of the goal.
Overall, despite a 4-0 win, the game really did not tell fans much of anything new, and it is evident that there are still problems that stronger teams will capitalize on in the Olympics if the U.S. is not careful. There were times when players seemed to aimlessly knock the ball around in the air rather than settle and controlling it and others when sloppy passes were sent right to the opponents’ feet.
However, if Jill Ellis was just looking for more minutes for players and a confidence boost before leaving for Rio, than she definitely got what she came for.
The USWNT will next depart for the2016 Olympics in Rio. Their opening game of Group G play is against New Zealand on August 3 at 6 p.m. EST. They will then take on France on August 6 at 4 p.m. EST and Colombia on August 9 at 6 p.m. EST. All games will be aired live on NBCSN and streamed online at NBCOlympics.com.
USA v CRC Match Summary
USA - Crystal Dunn (Meghan Klingenberg), 15'
USA - Mallory Pugh, 22'
USA - Carli Lloyd (Becky Sauerbrunn), 45+6'
USA - Christen Press (Allie Long), 79'
USA: 1-Hope Solo (18-Alyssa Naeher, 46’); 5-Kelley O’Hara, 8-Julie Johnston, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn (6-Whitney Engen, 46’), 7-Meghan Klingenberg (11-Ali Krieger, 46’); 3-Allie Long, 9-Lindsey Horan (14-Morgan Brian, 78’), 10-Carli Lloyd (C); 2-Mallory Pugh (17-Tobin Heath, 77’), 13-Alex Morgan (12-Christen Press, 63’), 16-Crystal Dunn
Subs Not Used: 20-Samantha Mewis
Head Coach: Jill Ellis
CRC: 1-Dinnia Diaz (13-Noelia Bermudez, 46'); 5-Diana Saenz (2-Carolina Angulo, 90+3'), 3-Fabiola Villalobos (19-Fabiola Sanchez, 84'), 4-Mariana Benavides, 12-Lixy Rodriguez; 15-Cristin Granados, 14-Maria Fernanda Barrantes, 10-Shirley Cruz (C) (23-Gloriana Villalobos, 82'), 16-Katherine Alvarado, 7-Melissa Herrera (17-Karla Villalobos, 79'); 11-Raquel Rodriguez (9-Carolina Venegas, 63')
Subs Not Used: 6-Maria Paula Elizondo
Head Coach: Amelia Valverde
CRC - Katherine Alvarado (caution), 10'
USA - Allie Long (caution), 24'
CRC - Fabiola Villalobos (caution), 28'
Referee: Ekaterina Koroleva (USA)
Assistant Referee 1: Amanda Ross (USA)
Assistant Referee 2: Deleana Quan (USA)
4th Official: Margaret Domka (USA)