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USWNT tops Australia in 5-3 comeback, Alex Morgan scores 100th goal

United States forward Alex Morgan, left, gestures to the crowd after scoring a goal as forward Tobin Heath heads down the pitch during the first half of a friendly soccer match against Australia Thursday, April 4, 2019, in Commerce City, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The United States women’s national team continued its preparation for this summer’s World Cup with a trip to Colorado, where Australia awaited.

After falling behind 2-1 early in the second half, the U.S. scored four second-half goals — including two from Colorado native Mallory Pugh — for a 5-3 come-from-behind win Thursday night against the Aussies.

“I think the first thing I said to the group after the game is character helps you win championships,” USWNT head coach Jill Ellis said postgame. “We saw that tonight in terms of getting ahead, getting behind, scoring a late goal. In games like that where you have to have mental capacity, tonight was a good test in terms of that.

Four different scorers found the target for the U.S. in the win. 

“I think it just shows how many quality attackers we have,” Pugh said postgame. “We came into this game and executed very well.”

The match marked a homecoming for Pugh and fellow Denver-area native Lindsey Horan. Both were honored by the city in the days leading up to the game. Horan got the start in midfield for the USWNT, while Pugh came off the bench, scoring shortly after her substitution for Megan Rapinoe in the 66th minute. 

Team USA threatened early with a pair of shots, including a close-range effort from Alex Morgan and a volley from Tobin Heath in the opening five minutes. Despite the danger, and numerous set pieces by the U.S., the Matildas did not concede.

It wouldn’t last. The floodgates opened in the 14th minute. Morgan dribbled across the top of the box, slotting home a shot to the left side of Australia ‘keeper Lydia Williams to give the USWNT the early 1-0 lead. The goal marked Morgan’s 100th on the international stage. 

“It feels so good”, Morgan said of the milestone. “It’s been a long time coming, just in terms of 99 to 100. But it was important for me to score, especially in the first half. It was a goal of mine to score in the first half in order to celebrate with my family who was here today.”

Despite large stretches of dominance by the U.S., Australia equalized in the 29th minute, when Lisa De Vanna streaked down the right side of the U.S. defense, putting a left-footed strike past American goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to level the match 1-1.

The U.S. responded with a counterattack, which led to a near-goal by Rapinoe, but a goal line clearance by Australian defender Ellie Carpenter kept the score level. Horan responded with another effort from long range, but Williams pushed it away from danger. 

The U.S. kept threatening, nearly retaking the lead just before the half. But Heath’s chipped effort went just wide of the mark. 

Out of halftime, Australian forward Caitlin Foord found the mark, giving the Matildas a 2-1 lead in the 47th minute. Foord spun around halftime substitute Sam Mewis to find space for the strike. Mewis struggled at times in the match, but Ellis stressed the importance of getting minutes for her players ahead of this summer’s World Cup in France. 

“I think she’s done well in our previous games,” Ellis said of Mewis’ performance. “She came in and did well for us. You want to see that what we’re doing now will help us in June. Getting these players minutes and big moments is important in terms of planning.”

With continued resolve, the U.S. women pushed for an equalizer and found one in the 53rd minute. Heath connected with Rapinoe’s cross on a header to level the score once more at 2-2. 

Seven minutes later, Rapinoe found a goal of her own, dribbling past defenders at the top of the box and blasting a low shot to put the U.S. back in front, 3-2 in the 61st minute. 

Shortly after scoring, Rapinoe subbed herself out as a preventative measure on an undetermined injury. 

“It’s about being smart,” Ellis said of the decision. “Everything now is about June. She’s a very experienced player and knew coming out was the best decision.”

But exactly 37 seconds after Rapinoe was subbed off, her replacement, Mallory Pugh, got on the scoresheet. Pugh’s shot from the right flank gave the U.S. a 4-2 in the 67th minute and sent the hometown crowd into a frenzy. 

U.S. forward Mallory Pugh, left, scores a goal as Australia defender Gema Simon pursues during the second half of an international friendly soccer match Thursday, April 4, 2019, in Commerce City, Colo. The United States won 5-3. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Australia pulled a goal back in the 81st minute, cutting the lead to 4-3 on a headed effort from Kerr.

Despite a late attacking push from the Matildas during extra time, the Americans held defensively and Pugh added a second goal just before the final whistle. 

“Offensively I thought we were fantastic tonight,” Ellis said of Pugh. “That was her role: to come in and be a difference maker. Those were world class goals she scored tonight. It speaks to the depth we have.”

The win marks the second consecutive for the U.S. women’s national team following a 1-0 victory over Brazil March 5. 

Continued Ellis, “That’s what we want in these games. Experience in terms of playing against world class players.”

Up next for the U.S. women: A trip to Los Angeles to face Belgium in another friendly match at 9 p.m. ET Sunday.

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