The United States Women’s National Team’s performance against New Zealand at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park can best be summarized by the word ‘adequate.’ The Yanks were less than impressive but weren’t challenged a whole lot either in beating the Football Ferns, 3-1 in Colorado behind Julie Ertz’s brace and a late goal by Orlando Pride striker Alex Morgan.
It wasn’t the crispest outing for the USWNT, but the squad got the job done. New Zealand barely threatened Alyssa Naeher’s goal frame and the U.S. had plenty of possession but missed some opportunities and the link-up play in the final third was lacking at times.
Morgan was in the starting XI for Jill Ellis, picking up her 129th career cap, but Ashlyn Harris was not (and didn’t even dress). Kelley O’Hara captained the side in her 100th cap.
After a ho-hum opening 10 minutes, the U.S. fashioned the first decent chance of the match after O’Hara marauded forward from her left back position and beat several defenders, before leaving off for Megan Rapinoe. The Seattle Reign star cut inside and earned a free kick. The initial ball on the set piece fell for Ertz with her back to goal. Ertz tried an overhead kick that sailed just over the bar in the 11th minute.
The U.S. broke through five minutes later off a corner kick that was cleared out. O’Hara served a gorgeous second ball back into the area that Lindsey Horan headed down for Ertz to run onto and deposit into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Eight minutes after that, Ertz doubled the lead. Morgan started the play with a slick pass to Taylor Smith, who sent Mallory Pugh down the right side. Pugh’s cross found a waiting Rapinoe in front but her header found the post instead of the net. The ball caromed out to the oncoming Ertz, who made no mistake in securing her brace at the 24-minute mark.
Horan barely missed a free header in front of goal off a long ball from Sam Mewis in the 34th minute as it skipped off her head from point-blank range, narrowly avoiding a third goal against New Zealand just past the half-hour mark. Horan again just missed a chance to get her head onto the ball in front of goal in the final minute of the first half. Instead, the U.S. had to be content to take a 2-0 lead into the break.
The U.S. tested New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler right out of the gate in the second period. Rapinoe delivered a free kick just moments after the restart that fell perfectly for Horan, but Nayler got over to keep it out and the U.S. couldn’t get a clean second shot off in the traffic.
Smith picked up a knock in the 51st minute and Sofia Huerta made her USWNT debut, becoming the first player to play both against and for the United States. The former Mexican international had her request for affiliation change approved by FIFA just days ago.
The U.S. squandered a few half chances but couldn’t really find a final ball throughout the second period. Eventually, after a few warning signs, New Zealand made the Yanks pay. Hannah Wilkinson, who got free but missed the net a few minutes earlier, got between the center backs on a ball in from Ali Riley and headed it past Naeher, who was late coming off her line. With a quarter hour to go, the Football Ferns had cut the U.S. lead to 2-1 on Wilkinson’s 25th career goal.
To make matters worse, O’Hara collided with Naeher on the goal and had to come off, with Casey Short replacing her at left back. It was an unfortunate way to finish her 100th cap.
That goal seemed to wake the U.S. back up. Barely four minutes after Wilkinson gave New Zealand a lifeline, Huerta sent a cross to Morgan at the back post. Alex settled it with a great first touch and then blasted a shot over Nayler and just under the bar to restore the two-goal advantage at 3-1. It was Morgan’s 75th career goal and tied her with Cindy Parlow for seventh all-time in USWNT history. Huerta picked up her first career assist.
Christen Press nearly added a fourth U.S. goal two minutes after Morgan’s goal. The Chicago Red Stars striker beat Nayler to a loose ball and chipped the keeper but the shot drifted just wide of the goal. Press tried again in the 85th minute from the top of the box but sliced her effort just wide of the left post.
From that point on, the U.S. simply saw the game out. Naeher had to make one decent save off Wilkinson late in stoppage time, as the New Zealand striker again got in between the center backs on a ball over the top. But seconds later the final whistle blew and the U.S. had a win to kick off the two-game set.
The Yanks and Football Ferns will do it again on Tuesday in Cincinnati at 7:30 p.m. ET.