The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) defeated South Africa Saturday afternoon, 1-0, in the first of two Olympic send-off matches.
With the win, starting goalkeeper Hope Solo earned her 100th shutout, making her the first goalkeeper in the world, man or woman, to ever accomplish the feat.
Solo, who has been with the USWNT since 2000, earned her first shutout in her very first appearance with the team, an 8-0 blowout over Iceland in a closed-door friendly. Since then, Solo has accumulated 150 wins in 197 appearances with the team.
Solo obviously has nothing to worry about in regards to a roster spot for the 2016 Olympics, and Saturday’s friendly was the last match before Head Coach Jill Ellis is expected to announce the final 18-player roster for Rio.
The score line against South Africa was likely a surprise to many fans who were expecting a blow out, but the South African defense was stellar in their performance. Captain Janine Van Wyk anchored the back line from her center back spot, and she seemed to constantly be in position to deny the U.S. whenever they tried to create an opportunity on goal.
The USWNT may have only scored one goal in the match, but it was not for a lack of trying. Less than a minute into the game, Meghan Klingenberg sent a pass from the left flank in to Christen Press in the center of the field. Press managed to slip past a couple of defenders and fire off a shot, but it flew just wide of the post.
Julie Johnston had the next best chance on goal for the USWNT in the 15th minute. Johnston, who has a knack for scoring on set pieces, was in prime position to get her head on a Mallory Pugh corner kick, but she just missed and the ball went out for a South Africa goal kick.
The first U.S. goal should have been scored in the 21st minute, but the USWNT came up just short once again. Crystal Dunn sent a ball up for Alex Morgan, but South African goalkeeper Roxanne Barker came out and blocked the ball with her body. After a few bobbles with the ball in the box, Mallory Pugh ran up and attempted to get a foot on it, but whiffed right in front of a wide open goal, and Barker was able to collect the resulting loose ball.
The first substitution of the match happened just minutes later when South African forward Octovia Nogwanya dislocated her elbow on a play and had to be stretchered off the field.The injury will likely cost Nogwanya a roster spot for the Olympics as South Africa qualified for the tournament for the second consecutive time.
Sanah Mollo came in for the injured Nogwanya, and immediately began making an impact on the South African attack. In the 24th minute, Mollo moved the ball down the field with USWNT co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn marking her the entire time. Mollo sent the ball out to the right flank, and the cross was put in, but Kelley O’Hara managed to head the ball out of bounds to award South African a corner kick.
Just moments later, Mollo took a shot from distance, but it deflected off of Johnston; the deflection was collected by South Africa and another shot was put on goal, but there wasn’t enough power behind it and Solo easily collected it for her second save of the day.
Despite failing to capitalize on any of its earlier chances on goal, the USWNT finally got on the board in the 35th minute. Klingenberg sent a ball in to Pugh, who moved the ball into the box and crossed it past Alex Morgan and to the feet of Dunn, who easily sent the ball into the back of the net to put the US on the board. The goal was Dunn’s ninth of the year, and the assist was Pugh’s seventh.
The remainder of the first half played out much the same, and the USWNT went into half time with a one-goal lead.
The second half saw the return of co-captain Carli Lloyd, who subbed in at the start of the half for Lindsey Horan. Lloyd had not played a game since April when she suffered a grade 1 MCL sprain while playing for her club team, the Houston Dash, but she did not seem to miss a step in her return match.
The USWNT came out with the intent to generate a stronger attack in the second half, and they were poised to strike in the 48th minute when Kelley O’Hara settled a deflection from Barker and moved the ball towards the end line. Her cross was sent right to Allie Long, but Long's header was headed out by Nothando Vilakazi at the goal line to prevent a second goal for the U.S.
In the 50th minute, fans had a bit of a scare when Crystal Dunn sent a ball to Alex Morgan, causing Barker to come off of her line to try to squash the ball. Morgan dribbled around the outstretched keeper and took a shot on goal, but she was tackled by Vilakazi as she did. The tackle caused the ball to go just wide of the post and Morgan to go down on the field, clutching her left leg. However, she got back up on her own after a minute down, and continued playing.
Two short corners around the 65th minute created a couple of dangerous opportunities for the USWNT, but the ball kept getting bobbled around in front of goal before finally being cleared out by South Africa to repeatedly deny the U.S. South Africa had all ten players in the box for the corner kicks though, and it was hard for the U.S. to pass or get off any shots with so many yellow jerseys in the vicinity.
There was a major change in the USWNT formation when Ali Krieger was subbed in for Alex Morgan in the 68th minute. Krieger replaced O’Hara at right back while O’Hara pushed up to the wing. Crystal Dunn seemed to shifted to the left wing while Christen Press moved into the 9 position and Mallory Pugh moved into the 10.
Pugh got her first shot on goal shortly thereafter when, in the 70th minute, Krieger sent a through pass in to Press, who laid the ball off back to Pugh. Pugh’s shot lacked muscle though, and Barker easily collected it.
In the 74th minute, Jermaine Seoposenwe, who attends Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, took a shot on goal from just outside the box, but the shot was no challenge for Solo. Seoposenwe had time and space on the ball, but took an early shot instead of trying to generate a play or get a better look on goal, a problem the South African attack seemed to have in the second half.
Carli Lloyd had her only look at goal in the 89th minute when she received the ball and made a move towards goal, but she was called off sides and Barker was there to stop any real chance anyway.
Three minutes of stoppage time was added, but as was the case for the entire second half, neither team could generate any plays of sustenance.
The USWNT did not play the way most were probably hoping for in the team’s first of two Olympic send-off matches. The midfield, which was without Tobin Heath and Morgan Brian because of minor injuries, seemed to have trouble with the possession-heavy style of play the team was said to be aiming for. Problems in the midfield is nothing new for the USWNT lately, but fans can only hope that Jill Ellis finds a way to iron out the kinks in time for Rio.
The USWNT’s final Olympic send-off match will be played against Costa Rica on July 22 in Kansas City.
USAvRSA Match Summary
USA - Crystal Dunn (Mallory Pugh), 35'
USA: Hope Solo; Kelley O’Hara (Heather O’Reilly, 83’), Julie Johnston (Whitney Engen, 82’), Becky Sauerbrunn (C), Meghan Klingenberg; Christen Press, Allie Long, Lindsey Horan (Carli Lloyd, 46’); Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan (Ali Krieger, 68’), Mallory Pugh (Samantha Mewis, 87’)
Subs Not Used: Alyssa Naeher, Emily Sonnett
Head Coach: Jill Ellis
Note: It was announced prior to the match that Morgan Brian, Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe would all be unavailable for the match because of injuries.
RSA: Roxanne Barker; Nothando Vilakazi (Bambanani Mbane, 87’), Noko Matlou, Janine Van Wyk (C), Refiloe Jane; Lebohang Ramalepe (Leandra Smeda, 56’), Jermaine Seoposenwe (Chrestinah Kgatlana, 80’) , Stephanie Malherbe, Robyn Moodaly (Nompumelelo Nyandeni, 46’); Linda Motlhalo (Amanda Dlamini, 61’), Octovia Nogwanya (Sanah Mollo, 23’)
Subs Not Used: Andile Dlamini, Kaylin Swart, Mamello Makhabane, Nomathemba Ntsibande, Silindile Ngubane, Lebogang Mabatle
Head Coach: Vera Pauw
USA - Meghan Klingenberg (caution), 84'
Referee: Maria Serpas (SLV)
Asst. Referee 1: Elizabeth Aguilar (SLV)
Asst. Referee 2: Emperatriz Ayala (SLV)
4th Official: Sandra Arteaga (SLV)