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Carli Lloyd brace carries USWNT to second straight win over Portugal

Kristen Hamilton made her debut for the USWNT and called it “a little overwhelming.”

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A first-half brace from Carli Lloyd set the stage for a 3-0 win as the U.S. women’s national team defeated Portugal for a second time in five days. An announced sellout crowd of 19,600 welcomed the defending World Cup champions to the Minnesota leg of their victory tour as the USWNT played just its second game in the Land of 10,000 Lakes since 2006.

The victory marked the 105th coaching win of Jill Ellis’ tenure with the USWNT, moving her into a first-place tie with Tony DiCicco for the most by any U.S. national team head coach. Ellis will be stepping down from the job in October at the conclusion of the team’s World Cup victory tour.

Ellis called tying DiCicco’s record an honor.

“That’s a gentleman that built and paved the way, obviously with Anson [Dorrance] and all the previous coaches,” Ellis said. “Massive credit to them in terms of building the expectation and building the excellence that’s served this program so well. And for anyone who steps into this role, that really is ― that’s the charge — to continue to win championships and to continue to push this team. It’s a big mantle to wear in terms of just honoring what’s come before you.”

Seven starters from the 2019 World Cup final against the Netherlands — Alyssa Naeher, Samantha Mewis, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Julie Ertz, Tobin Heath and Crystal Dunn — featured in the Americans’ first XI in Minnesota. Stars Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Rose Lavelle did not dress due to lingering injuries. But Ellis said before the match that she would be rotating players and finding minutes for her entire roster, with a number of her charges soon returning to NWSL teams entering the league’s playoff push.

Though the Minneapolis-St. Paul chapter of the American Outlaws was in full voice from the opening whistle as it filled Allianz Field’s supporters’ section, much of the crowd looked toward the field for occasion to shout. The 37-year-old Lloyd provided it in the 22nd minute.

Portugal goalkeeper Inês Pereira did her best to keep the Stars and Stripes from scoring first, saving initial efforts from Lloyd and Jessica McDonald. But when the visitors missed a second chance to clear the ball out of their penalty area, Lloyd was free to side-foot the ball into an open net.

It was Lloyd’s third goal in as many games.

Ten minutes later, Lloyd would strike again, this time set up by Heath.

Beaten off the dribble, Portugal defender Ana Borges took Heath down, prompting referee Ekaterina Koroleva to whistle and point to the penalty spot. Were VAR in use on the evening, the penalty may have been downgraded to a free kick on the edge of 18 yard box. Borges looked to have made contact with Heath just before the the latter entered the penalty area, but the call on the field stood.

Stepping up to take the penalty, Lloyd doubled the USWNT’s lead by thumping the ball over Pereira as the 20-year-old keeper dove to her left. It marked the 117th international goal of Lloyd’s decorated career, coming in her 284th cap. Lloyd’s goal tally ranks fourth behind only Abby Wambach (184), Mia Hamm (158) and Kristine Lilly (130) in USWNT history.

After the game, Lloyd was asked about being 14 goals shy of overtaking Lilly for third-place all-time.

“That’s news for me,” Lloyd replied. “Obviously, great to chase Lil. What an icon she is.”

Lloyd — the oldest member of the U.S.’s 2019 World Cup roster — added that her focus remains on improving with every training session and continuing to evolve her game and to become even sharper.

“The rest of that, you know, [I’m] not really worried about it,” Lloyd said.

Nor were the Stars and Stripes particularly worried about Portugal after an opening 45 minutes dominated by the hosts. With Portugal struggling to keep the ball out of their defensive third, Pereira was the lone bright spot for the visitors. The keeper had her work cut out for her in commanding her penalty area while playing in front of a comparatively undersized back line.

“I thought she had a couple great saves,” Naeher said. “I was impressed with the way that she played — thought she had a great game.”

Entering the game as a halftime substitution and in search of her 50th international goal, Christen Press forced a pair of saves from Pereira in the opening seven minutes of the second half. And while Press would fail to find the goal on the night, she did record an 83rd-minute assist from a corner by picking out the head of Lindsey Horan.

It was Horan’s 12th international goal, coming in the Portland Thorns midfielder’s 77th appearance for the national team.

And where the night was primarily a celebration of the players who earned the USWNT a fourth gold star, it was also a debut for the North Carolina Courage’s Kristen Hamilton — the 29th player to make their national team debut under Ellis.

Ellis mentioned that she had previous conversions with Hamilton about a USWNT call-up, but an injury got in the way. This time, injuries created space for Hamilton to get her first cap.

“A little overwhelming,” said Hamilton of her 76th-minute introduction. “It’s a pretty crazy and experience. And not really expecting to be here in this camp, getting that call was really exciting. I don’t think I really can put into words truly how exciting it is. But also my path has been pretty unconventional — to get here and to get that cap at 27 is pretty cool.”

On the reception Hamilton received from the crowd at Allianz Field, Ellis said, “It was fantastic. I thought she was from Minnesota.”

When the final whistle sounded, the U.S. had allowed just a single off-target shot. The shutout kept the USWNT’s unblemished defensive record against Portugal intact,  having yet to concede a goal against A Selecção das Quinas. Outshooting the visitors 21-1 on the night and holding over 60-percent possession, it was another dominant performance by the standard bearers in women’s soccer.

Having completed the third stop of their five-city tour, the U.S. women took a victory lap around the field, pausing to dance in front of the Wonderwall and the American Outlaws drums before waiving goodbye.

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