In the final test against a top 10 team before the start of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the United States Women’s National Team exploded for four second-half goals to beat No. 6 Australia 5-3 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO. Orlando Pride striker Alex Morgan opened the scoring and contributed to one of Mallory Pugh’s two second-half goals, with Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe also chipping in on the offensive explosion.
Morgan became the seventh player in U.S. history to reach 100 goals, tying Tiffany Milbrett on the all-time list.
The U.S. snapped a two-game winless streak against the Aussies and improved to 26-1-3 in the all-time series. The Yanks are now 3-1-2 in a 2019 filled with opponents that are already World Cup-bound.
Jill Ellis deployed these players to start the game in the usual 4-3-3:
Orlando Pride teammates Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond both started for Australia, along with former Pride forward Lisa De Vanna.
The United States won some early corners and hemmed Australia into its own end but couldn’t really threaten goal in the opening minutes. The game then settled into a struggle between the boxes for about 10 minutes before Morgan broke the deadlock.
On a Crystal Dunn ball sent over the top, Morgan out-muscled Clare Polkinghorne to take possession, then dribbled into the area, losing Kennedy in the process. With only goalkeeper Lydia Williams to beat, Morgan fired a right-footed effort into the far side of the net from the left side, scoring her 100th career international goal and putting the USWNT up 1-0 at the 15-minute mark.
The Matildas nearly pulled that goal right back only seconds later. Sam Kerr found the ball at her feet in the area but fired over the bar, letting the U.S. defense off the hook.
Morgan tried to help her team double the lead in the 22nd with a great cross into the area that Lindsey Horan headed down for Heath, but the ball was just a smidge too far in front and she couldn’t get on it.
Australia leveled the game in the 29th. The Matildas broke four-on-four down the pitch and for some reason Emily Sonnett had strayed so far from her right back position that she looked like she was playing center back. Australia saw the gaping hole on the left and got the ball to De Vanna, who had time to scope out where she wanted her shot to go and deposited it inside the far post, beating Alyssa Naeher and making it 1-1.
Rapinoe should have restored the lead in the 32nd minute. Heath drove to the end line, slowed the game down, then sent a cross in to the middle. Rapinoe hit her shot right at Williams, who spilled it to her right. As the spin of the ball was carrying it into the goal, Ellie Carpenter swept it off the line to prevent Australia from conceding.
A minute later, Kerr nearly put the Matildas on top. De Vanna curled a cross in behind the U.S. back line and Kerr got away from Becky Sauerbrunn. She got a foot on the cross but could only knock it wide of the back post.
Horan then forced a Williams save on a high shot in the 35th that would have gone just under the bar. That set up a series of corners on which Rose Lavelle nearly scored, only to see Williams get a touch on her shot and send it spinning wide.
The Aussies got another good chance in the 39th. Van Egmond sent a long ball to Kerr, who got in well behind the defense but somehow stayed onside. Her shot was deflected and Naeher couldn’t reach it but fortunately it bounced just wide of goal. Kennedy then sent a free kick over the bar in the 43rd.
The last good opportunity of the half was on Heath’s foot as she torched Kennedy and cut toward goal but had almost no angle from which to shoot. Heath shot anyway, chipping Williams, only to see it float tantalizingly close to the goal line but stay out as it made its way across the face of the net.
The teams went to the break tied at 1-1.
It only took two minutes for the Aussies to take the lead after the restart. A midfield turnover on a ball intended for Morgan started a quick counter that ended up on the foot of Caitlin Foord. She made a quick move that forced second-half sub Sam Mewis to slip, then took advantage of Abby Dahlkemper’s poor closeout, beating Naeher to the far post to make it 2-1 in the 47th.
The U.S. knotted things up in the 53rd minute. Morgan had just sent a cross through the area for Heath but the Portland Thorns star couldn’t reach it for the easy tap-in. The Yanks stayed with it and Sonnett sent the ball back across the area where Heath nodded home to equalize at 2-2.
The Heath goal started the U.S. onslaught. Rapinoe worked from left to right across the top of the box in the 61st minute and finally squared and fired home to restore the U.S. lead.
Three minutes later, Sam Mewis headed wide on a great cross from Morgan out on the right side. Rapinoe pulled up with an apparent calf injury on the play and was subbed off for Pugh, who officially entered in the 66th minute at the next stoppage in play.
All the Washington Spirit star did was score on her first touch. Morgan pushed the ball into the area for Sonnett with a beautiful backheel pass. Sonnett laid off for Pugh, who fired home to make it 4-2 in the 67th minute.
Christen Press forced a diving save out of Williams in the 73rd minute as the U.S. continued to find holes in the Australia defense. Williams palmed the ball away to her right where her defense got to the ball before any of the attacking U.S. players could.
The Matildas pulled pack a goal in the 81st. Press overcommitted trying to defend, which allowed a free cross into the area for Kerr to head home. Dahlkemper and Crystal Dunn were near(ish) to Kerr but they allowed far too much space for arguably the world’s most dangerous striker.
Kerr cuts the lead to one. USA still up, 4-3. pic.twitter.com/8x9eRjRCaB— Our Game Magazine (@OurGameMagazine) April 5, 2019
The U.S. tried to close out the game defensively but a series of really odd substitutions — including not playing Ali Krieger when the team didn’t have another natural right back on the bench — allowed Australia to keep prolonged pressure in the Yanks’ end. The Matildas ultimately couldn’t find the final ball to equalize and the U.S. put it away in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Naeher booted a long kick over everyone and Pugh was the first to arrive, chipping Williams on nearly the last kick of the game to complete her brace in front of her hometown crowd in Colorado.
While Australia is going to be one of the toughest teams in the World Cup, the United States must be better defensively. It was not a banner night defensively for Sonnett or Dahlkemper, and it’s clear this team has no better plan than “outscore the other team” at this point. But Ellis isn’t helping matters with the substitutions, taking Dahlkemper off for Carli Lloyd at one point and sliding Julie Ertz into the back line. This was shortly after putting Tierna Davidson on for Sonnett and moving Dunn to right back with Krieger available.
The USWNT will be back in action Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET against Belgium.