Three defenders scored off set pieces before Morgan Brian’s effort off the bench helped lift the United States women over New Zealand, 4-0, on Saturday. The U.S. attacked for most of the match and rarely saw the ball cross into its own half of the field.
Meghan Klingenberg scored after nearly a quarter-hour, on a long shot reminiscent of her goal against Haiti in World Cup qualifying. Lori Chalupny came off the bench to score the second goal in front of 35,817 fans in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
Center back Julie Johnston, who has taken advantage of her opportunity in the starting lineup since the Algarve Cup, added a third three minutes later off Lauren Holiday’s free kick floated into the penalty area. Finally, Brian caused a turnover in the top half and deposited a shot coolly inside the far post to finish off a tired New Zealand team with 10 minutes to go.
The U.S. will play three more matches ahead of the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada as it continues final preparations for the tournament. Here are three thoughts on the Americans’ resounding victory against New Zealand:
The U.S.’s next challenge: Being more efficient in front of goal
Despite outshooting New Zealand by a wide margin, the majority of the U.S.’s efforts went wayward. The team’s recent training in the final third is paying dividends. However, the U.S. likely won’t have as much time in front of goal against stronger teams at the World Cup.
With Megan Rapinoe back in the lineup for her 100th cap, manager Jill Ellis moved to a wider 4-4-2 system that emphasized her involvement. Rapinoe drew much of New Zealand’s attention, and her service caused problems all game. The Americans relied on their flank play and crosses on dead balls, as a determined New Zealand defense slowed their central ball movement.
Amy Rodriguez was the team’s best player
Rodriguez hit a shot off the crossbar from an early throw-in after receiving with an open body position and slipping through the New Zealand back line. In the 38th minute, she connected on a looping Rapinoe cross from the left and smacked a volley off the post that was inches away from being a world-class finish. Rodriguez may not have scored against New Zealand, but she made a huge impression.
The second forward position next to Alex Morgan seems to be one of the few spots still in question ahead of the World Cup. On Saturday, Rodriguez took a step closer to making the top 11 against Australia in the first group match, which would complete her resurgence after missing the inaugural NWSL season in 2013 due to her pregnancy.
Ellis still has adjustments to make
The U.S. coach may be done experimenting, but that doesn’t mean her exact lineup won’t change before the World Cup opener on June 8. Playing just two in central midfield (Holiday and Carli Lloyd started there Saturday) would likely work against opponents such as New Zealand, who clog the middle defensively and leave space wide. Against proactive, possession-based teams such as those in the knockout rounds, though, the U.S. might need an extra number in the middle.
Adding Brian into the mix would preserve the U.S.’s numerical superiority or at least ensure parity in central areas. Teams such as Germany and France, who can overload and dominate the possession through midfield, would have a tougher time. Certainly, Rapinoe’s return illuminated her influence on the wing, but the best international teams dominate the middle of the field.