The United States women’s national team (USWNT) returned to its dominant, goal-scoring ways, sweeping its two-game series against New Zealand with a 5-0 win Tuesday night. Alex Morgan scored a brace, while Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Lynn Williams all contributed singles on the night.
Reminiscent of the multi-goal blowouts of the post-World Cup win victory tour, the game most likely eased some of the fears of fans around the country. After all, the past year has not been the most kind, with the U.S. seeing its earliest Olympic exit in history, followed by a last-place finish at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup. Although the U.S. fared better at this summer’s Tournament of Nations, tonight’s result is the team’s biggest win since defeating Romania by the same scoreline last November.
Similar to that match, the opponent had much to do with it. This pair of friendlies is only the second time New Zealand has played since the Olympics and the first time since March. They’re also the 19th-ranked team in the world compared to the Top 10 opponents that have dominated the USWNT’s schedule this year. As a result, New Zealand was a much weaker opponent than the likes of England, France and Australia, all of whom have defeated the U.S. on home soil this year.
In comparison to Friday night’s 3-1 opening win over the Football Ferns, it took a little longer for the U.S. to find their way onto the board, not scoring until late in the first half. Not coincidentally, the goals came shortly after Lindsey Horan subbed into the match in place of hometown girl Rose Lavelle, who put in only a 30-minute shift as she continues recovering from a hamstring injury. Horan’s presence in the midfield in front of Julie Ertz and Sam Mewis immediately shifted the USWNT’s game into the next gear, and the home side tallied two goals in the last 10 minutes of the opening half as a result.
The first of that pair of goals came in the 36th minute when Mewis, who has started in every USWNT match so far this year, sent in a cross from the right flank. Horan, noticing that goalkeeper Erin Nayler, earning her 50th cap for the Football Ferns tonight, was off her line, took to the air to get on the end of Mewis’s cross, heading the ball over Nayler and in for the first goal of the night. She then followed her goal with an assist, playing a perfectly-weighted through ball to Mallory Pugh, who expertly placed her shot between Nayler and the far post to put the U.S. up 2-0 at the half.
Head coach Jill Ellis made a number of changes at halftime, the most profitable of which was substituting Alex Morgan for Christen Press. Within Morgan’s first minute on the field, she had increased the USWNT’s lead to 3-0 thanks to an assist by Mallory Pugh and some lackluster goalkeeping by Nayler. The striker then completed her first brace since 2016 in the 69th minute, using her first touch to settle a pass by Pugh before ripping off a left-footed shot that deflected off the underside of the bar and into the goal.
Morgan’s two goals bookended a goal by Lynn Williams, who also entered the match at the half. Williams received the ball along the right flank and used her speed to torch defender Ali Riley and make a break towards goal. She then played a cross intended for Pugh, but it was just out of Pugh’s reach as the young forward was taken down. The play continued until O’Hara sent the ball back in, and Williams headed it past Nayler for the fourth goal of the night.
Although she did not play a part in any of the goal scoring action as she subbed into the match after the final goal of the night, Tobin Heath did make her return to the USWNT after being out the past six months with a back injury. Before the match it was reported that Mark Parsons was expecting her to see the field in the Portland Thorns match against the Orlando Pride this weekend, which would be her first appearance at the club level all season. Heath’s last game played before tonight was the USWNT’s 3-0 loss to France during the SheBelieves Cup.
All in all, it was a good night for the USWNT. Julie Ertz once again excelled as a defensive midfielder, and Jill Ellis will surely want to implement a pairing of her and Sam Mewis behind Lindsey Horan in the midfield more often, as it led to some of the best moments of the match. Alex Morgan is on an absolute goal-scoring tear, for both club and country, and it’s incredibly fun to watch her continuously find the back of the net. Kelley O’Hara once again proved her versatility, shifting from right to left back as substitutions were made, and her ability to push high into the attack saw her contribute heavily in multiple goals on the night.
The USWNT will return to their clubs to finish out the rest of the NWSL regular season before North Carolina, Portland, and two more yet-to-be-determined teams compete in the offseason. The USWNT will return to action in October for a pair of friendlies against Korea Republic.