The United States Women’s National Team kicked off its 2018 schedule in emphatic fashion, destroying Denmark — the world’s No. 12 team — 5-1 at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego. The Danes scored first but goals by Alex Morgan, Julie Ertz, Mallory Pugh (twice), and Crystal Dunn sent the visitors home on the wrong end of a thrashing.
It was a bit of delayed revenge for a team that conceded five in the last meeting between the two countries — a match that helped lead to Tom Sermanni’s dismissal as manager of the USMNT.
Jill Ellis handed defender Tierna Davidson her first cap and Orlando Pride star Morgan was the team captain — her second time wearing the armband in her international career. These were the starters in Ellis’ 4-3-3:
The game’s early minutes were a bit sloppy, as you’d expect from a couple teams that had been off for a while. Eventually they settled into the game and the United States bossed the middle of the pitch with constant pressure, although few scoring chances came from it. Megan Rapinoe forced a couple corners but nothing came from them.
Denmark took a shock lead against the run of play after a defensive-end turnover led to a corner for the visitors. On the set piece, former Portland Thorns forward Nadia Nadim got a free header and found the target to put Denmark ahead, 1-0 in the 14th minute.
The goal woke up the United States, which began to generate scoring chances. Just moments after falling behind, Morgan got a left-footed shot from a tough angle but the ball took a deflection and ended up an easy stop for the goalkeeper. But a quick pressure by Pugh resulted in a turnover and the Washington Spirit star slipped a perfect cross for Morgan to run onto and slot home for her 81st career international goal. The game was level in the 17th minute.
The deadlock didn’t last long. In the 19th minute, a corner kick taken short to Abby Dahlkemper was crossed in to the top of the box, where Davidson headed it toward the net. Ertz stuck out her foot and got enough of a touch to send it over Lykke Petersen and just under the bar to put the U.S. on top, 2-1.
Denmark nearly equalized at the 24-minute mark, again off a corner. Nadim couldn’t be contained by Ertz or Dahlkemper and her header went just wide of Alyssa Naeher’s net. The U.S. nearly made Denmark pay a minute later, when Kelley O’Hara sent in a gorgeous cross for Morgan, who headed past Lykke Petersen but it hit squarely off the left post and stayed out.
Morgan took a slick pass in from Rapinoe and teed up a shot in the 33rd minute but had it partially blocked and it went behind for a corner. Three minutes later, Pugh used a Morgan run as a decoy and curled a shot just wide of the far upper corner as the Yanks continued to pour forward and Denmark had no answer for Pugh. A minute later, Morgan laid off a pass for Andi Sullivan while being mugged in the box but the No. 1 pick in the NWSL draft missed her spot and the shot was well off target.
Morgan sent Rapinoe in alone on goal with a perfect pass in the 45th minute. The Seattle star tried to round Lykke Petersen and went down at the top of the box but referee Karen Abt saw nothing wrong with the challenge and blew the halftime whistle moments later. It looked to be a good no-call, as Rapinoe lost her footing trying to step around the Danish goalkeeper. The U.S. took its 2-1 lead into the dressing room.
The second half had barely started when Pugh gave the U.S. an insurance goal. She broke down the center of the field, out-paced her defender and sent a rocket past Lykke Petersen to make it 3-1 in the 47th minute.
Pugh, Pugh, Pugh-pugh. pic.twitter.com/lSfLM2y6yN— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) January 22, 2018
The onslaught continued with Morgan fizzing a cross through the box two minutes later but it was a bit behind Sullivan and the chance melted away. A minute later, Pugh tried to find a streaking Morgan but the defender deflected the pass right at Lykke Petersen.
Pugh struck again in the 65th minute. Stealing a pass attempt from Lykke Petersen, she broke into the right side of the box with Morgan and Rapinoe as options. In the end, she called her own number and blasted home her second of the game to make it 4-1.
Morgan came off five minutes later to a nice ovation after a solid outing that saw her doing a lot of the little things well — making timely runs, tracking back, playing help defense, and playing great passes into the path of her teammates — in addition to scoring. Christen Press replaced her and Ellis began to substitute liberally, giving Savannah McCaskill her first cap.
Ertz was perhaps fortunate the match was a friendly in the 74th minute, when Sanne Troelsgaard got behind the defense. Ertz clipped the Danish attacker and was the last visible defender, meaning she denied a goal-scoring opportunity. She saw only yellow, and Denmark lined up for a free kick just above the box. Pernille Harder stepped into the set piece and sent a laser beam off the crossbar that deflected behind.
The U.S. should have scored again in the 80th minute. After O’Hara made a slick move to beat her defender, her cross was knocked away from Press for a U.S. corner. On the ensuing set piece, Carli Lloyd charged in and headed one on goal that was cleared by a Danish defender. The defender was entirely behind the line and the goal should have counted but neither the referee nor the AR saw it and video review was not available in the match. It would have been Lloyd’s 99th career international goal.
But, because of the universal law of “ball don’t lie,” the United States got its fifth goal a minute later. Lynn Williams picked out Press, who blasted a shot toward goal. Lykke Petersen made a great reaction save but Dunn was there to sweep in the rebound.
Things could have gotten worse for Denmark in the 90th minute, when Williams waited a beat or two too long before trying to cross for a wide-open McCaskill in front of goal. The hesitation allowed the defender to close Williams down and block the pass attempt.
After an uneventful two minutes of stoppage time, Abt blew the full-time whistle and the USWNT basked in a 5-1 victory.
Next up for the U.S. is the SheBelieves Cup, which kicks off March 1 against Germany in Columbus.