HARRISON, N.J. — Three goals and a dominant display against Mexico gave the United States women’s national team a win for its final game before the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup begins June 7. Tobin Heath, Mallory Pugh and Christen Press each scored Sunday at Red Bull Arena.
The U.S. spent the majority of the opening 10 minutes in the final third, frequently launching quick attacking plays. The reward came in the 11th minute when Heath made her way into the penalty area chasing a loose ball. After easily getting around defender Rebecca Bernal, Heath finished from close range.
As the game progressed, the pace slowed down, but not too much. Mexico at times held the U.S. in midfield, but eventually the team once again pushed forward. Chances were in no short supply, with efforts from the usual stars. Mexican goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago was up for the task, though, demonstrating that on a 42nd-minute save of a close-range Crystal Dunn attempt.
“We created a lot of chances, and I think the players would say it as well,” U.S. head coach Jill Ellis said following the match. “There’s a lot of boxes [that] got checked today, but there’s a lot left on the table, but I think this group creates a lot. And they’re very potent and, I think it’s in time, we’ll work things out.”
In the second half, Ellis rotated personnel, putting regional players Carli Lloyd and Allie Long in the match, along with Pugh, Press and Lindsey Horan. Ellis gave many of the players expected to be her first-choice starters, including Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, the rest of the afternoon off. As a result, she experimented with the shape, slotting in Heath at left back until she was substituted off in the 71st minute.
The second half played much like the majority of the first, with the U.S. still managing a high number of shots while the defense remained mostly untroubled. Julie Ertz blocked a ball with what appeared to be her face midway through the second half outside the penalty area, one of the few notable Mexico attacks.
Eventually, though, the Americans’ shot-after-shot approach ended in two more goals. A false alarm came first, courtesy of a Lloyd goal that was ruled offside about 10 minutes into the second half, but Pugh’s 76th-minute attempt doubled the lead. Lloyd had the ball next to goal and sent it toward the goal line. A few players on both teams were nearby, but Pugh met the ball and sent it over the goal line.
“I think anytime we have more opportunities, we want to put more percentage into goal,” Ertz said about the first half. “It’s 90 minutes, and it’s continuing to push and not get frustrated and continue to work as a team and the subs that came in were huge game-changers for us. They were ready and prepared and gave us a whole different dynamic up front.”
The match maintained its status until the close, but not before Press closed out the match. Receiving the ball at the edge of the penalty area, she made her way in a crowded area and took the shot from there, landing it in the back of the net in the 88th minute.
Despite the seemingly routine victory, the team believed the test was one appropriate for the upcoming World Cup, which will require a flexibility to play against different types of opponents, and against teams that can do multiple things.
“We want to be able to manipulate games, whatever it asks [us] to do,” Ertz said. “We want to have an idea of different things to do, and I think that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with versatility, which is awesome our team is really excited.”
The U.S. WNT ended its send-off series with three wins, scoring 11 times in three matches and conceding zero. The reigning champions head into the World Cup with just one loss in 2019, against tournament host France. It leaves the U.S. as a comfortable choice to win the tournament again this year, which is something that ultimately is no burden for them.
“I think there’s a lot of good teams and we’re all aware of that but we want to be the team to beat,” Ellis said. “I think that’s our approach and I don’t think you’d ever see any different from this team even 10 years from now in terms of how this program is built itself.”
The U.S. begins its title defense against Thailand June 11 at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims.