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USA vs. Mexico, International Friendly: Final Score 3-0 as Yanks Grind Out a Result

The USWNT lacked sharpness in the final match prior to the World Cup but still earned a win in New Jersey.

Soccer: Countdown to the Cup Women’s Soccer-Mexico at USA Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The United States Women’s National Team wasn’t convincing on a hot and frustrating day at Red Bull Arena, but the Yanks did just enough to get past Mexico, 3-0. Tobin Heath, Mallory Pugh, and Christen Press provided the offense on a day when missed opportunities combined with good goalkeeping to keep the U.S. from ever blowing the match wide open.

Although it wasn’t a win that will inspire confidence heading into the World Cup in France, and the U.S. did pick up a few minor knocks, the team will head to the world’s biggest stage riding a 7-1-2 record in 2019 and improve to 36-1-1 in the all-time series against Mexico.

Aside from the lack of Lindsey Horan, it was an expected full-strength Starting XI from Jill Ellis, with Orlando Pride striker Alex Morgan up top wearing the captain’s armband. Jeff Kassouf of The Equalizer reported that a team spokesman said the team is “managing Horan’s training load,” as the Portland midfielder recently returned from injury.

The United States wasted no time in getting on the attack, but the first half was an exercise in frustration rather than a confidence builder. Sam Mewis made a great run down the left in the second minute but she hit her cross for a wide-open Heath too hard. Heath — playing in her 150th international match — then hit a volley attempt poorly a minute later from well inside the box.

Megan Rapinoe’s chip attempt just seconds into the fourth minute was tipped away at the last instant by goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago. Morgan was caught just a half yard offside in the sixth minute or Rose Lavelle would have put her in behind the defense as the Yanks continued to pound on the door.

Lavelle sent Heath into the box only to see the Portland Thorns striker have trouble digging the ball out of her feet and then dance with the ball a bit before losing it. Lavelle then went for goal herself from distance in the eighth minute but hit her shot right at Santiago.

The breakthrough came in the 11th minute on a horror show of a mistake by Santiago. The goalkeeper tried to play out of the back to defender Rebeca Bernal but the communication was missing and the ball skipped straight to Heath, who dribbled into the area and smashed in her 11th goal in her last 15 matches for the U.S. to make it 1-0.

Ironically, the miscue served to settle Mexico down and the visitors had a lot more of the ball and surrendered no scoring chances over the next 17 minutes. The U.S. had a few chances to get Morgan in behind during that stretch but she was either offside or the pass was too heavy on those occasions.

Lavelle finally got the next shot on target in the 28th minute, firing an easy one for Santiago to handle from about 25 yards out. Morgan then should have doubled the lead in the 29th. Crystal Dunn sent a perfect cross to her right in front of goal but somehow Morgan failed to make decent contact with the ball and it ended up behind her. She picked up a knock on the play but returned to the game moments later. She was occasionally limping at times, but continued to play until halftime.

Heath missed badly in the 33rd minute as the USWNT continued to waste opportunities. With both time and space she tried to hit a shot with power and perhaps was fortunate not to miss the ball entirely as it skipped well wide of goal. The frustrating half got worse in the 35th minute when Morgan was played in behind the defense and struck it with her favored left foot, only to see Santiago stick out her right leg and save it.

Rapinoe fired a free kick over the bar from a decent spot on the left in the 39th minute. Santiago made a fantastic save to deny Dunn in the 44th minute on a powerful header and an even better one to rob Dunn blind in first-half stoppage time off a corner kick scramble.

The USWNT took only a 1-0 lead into the break despite a plethora of good chances. Santiago finished the first half with six saves to keep her team in the match.

Ellis made several changes at halftime, inserting Carli Lloyd, Horan, Press, Allie Long, and Pugh into the match for Rapinoe, Morgan, Dunn, Lavelle, and Becky Sauerbrunn. Julie Ertz dropped out of the midfield and into the center back role for Sauerbrunn and Heath surprisingly moved to left back before eventually subbing off for Emily Sonnett.

Lloyd wasted no time getting a scoring chance. Horan sent her into the area and the captain rounded Santiago before sliding a shot on frame. The defense was able to clear it just before it crossed the goal line in the 48th minute to keep it at 1-0.

Mexico finally got a half a chance in the 51st minute with a ball into the area for Kiana Palacios, but the striker missed the bouncing ball and the chance disappeared. The U.S. then had to deal with a corner after a wayward pass out of the back resulted in a Mexico shot that was blocked out over the line but Alyssa Naeher and Kelley O’Hara combined to clear the danger.

The lack of sharpness continued for the U.S. in the 56th minute with a Horan header off frame and again in the 58th minute with Mewis slicing a shot badly after a nice buildup.

Lloyd put the ball in the net in the 67th minute but she was a good yard offside when the pass was played in and it remained just a one-goal match.

Horan had a decent shot with her right foot in the 73rd minute but could only watch Santiago again get down to make the save.

The lead finally grew in the 73rd minute. Lloyd was sent down the left channel on a deflected pass forward from the back and carried it with pace into the area, eventually getting into the six-yard box and sending it across the face of goal. The ball hit either Pugh or Mexican midfielder Yamilé Franco last and bundled over the line. Pugh was credited with the score and the U.S. finally led 2-0.

O’Hara had a look at goal in the 78th but her header missed badly off a good cross. Pugh trickled a shot wide in the 81st off a Lloyd cross that was a bit off line and took her further from goal. Mewis sent a rising drive just over the bar and perhaps a bit wide two minutes later.

Press scored the USWNT’s most convincing goal of the day to finish some good buildup play. She lost defender Arianna Romero with a nice turn and by switching to her left foot, then slammed a strike into the bottom right corner past a diving Santiago to make it 3-0 in the 88th minute.

From there, the U.S. just needed to see off the few minutes of remaining time and closed out the match.

What remains to be seen is the severity of the knock that Morgan suffered in the first half, but it’s a good sign that she continued and seemed to still have good pace. Trainers also came on for Naeher and Ertz in the second half, but those seemed to be nothing more serious than a cramp and a bloody nose, respectively.

Orlando Pride stars Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger were unused subs.

That’ll do it for the pre-World Cup schedule. The next time the USWNT plays, it will be in France in group play against Thailand on June 11 at 3 p.m. ET.