The United States women made quick work of Costa Rica, 8-0, in their first friendly since winning the World Cup in July. In front of a raucous crowd of 44,028 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, the team’s Victory Tour began in a truly celebratory atmosphere.
It didn’t take long for Heather O’Reilly to start the party, as the winger picked off a ball in Costa Rica’s defensive third and dribbled straight in to score in the fourth minute. Christen Press added a second on a shot from just inside the penalty area in the 29th minute, Julie Johnston scored her fourth U.S. goal in the 36th and Press tapped in again in the 45th to cap the first-half scoring.
The U.S. didn’t slow down in the second despite the plethora of substitutions typical of international friendlies. Additional goals by hometown hero Meghan Klingenberg, Whitney Engen, a second from O’Reilly and Press’ third sealed the final result.
Here are three thoughts on the U.S. women’s return to action after the World Cup:
It’s a celebration
Everything, from the in-stadium experience to the coverage on Fox, was geared toward celebrating the World Cup victory in this first match of the tour. The match was set up for a U.S. win from the start, playing against a nation the Americans have beaten every time they’ve played.
Even the setting, a pristine grass field in a big but fill-able stadium, pointed to a celebration. The result and performance matched it, with the Americans cruising to a win without ever straining themselves too much, and plenty of the players on hand saw the field.
The eight matches that follow the two against Costa Rica probably won’t be like this. The novelty of winning a trophy, even though it’s the World Cup, will eventually wear off as the team gears up for Olympic qualifying and the players, staff and fans work toward the next conquest.
It’s also an internal competition
As Australia and Brazil venture stateside for matches in September and October, the focus will shift. These games, along with whatever head coach Jill Ellis schedules in December and January, serve as build-up to Olympic qualifiers in February and the eventual tough decisions it will take to whittle the squad down to 18 players for the tournament in Brazil.
Because of the reduced roster size, not all of the 23 players who won the World Cup will be able to travel.
Even taking away those retiring at the end of the year, competition will be fierce beyond the established group of 15 or 16 likely to be in the lineup rotation. Players such as O’Reilly, Engen, Kelley O’Hara, Lori Chalupny and Alyssa Naeher will be looking for any opportunity to impress Ellis in these 10 matches.
O’Reilly’s two goals in a rare start should help her cause in particular. Still, every player will want to seize each opportunity she is given, whether it’s in a celebratory exhibition or in training between matches, to give herself the chance to travel to Rio next summer.
Klingenberg rewarded for consistency with hometown goal
Before Sunday, the only U.S. women’s match in Pittsburgh drew just 6,386 spectators in the same cavernous stadium as the game against Costa Rica. The game against Costa Rica was the exact opposite, with fans turning up in droves, especially looking forward to watching Klingenberg, the team’s Pittsburgh native.
Goals from fullbacks are fairly rare, but Klingenberg has a way of making hers memorable. After a long-distance rocket for her first international goal in World Cup qualifying, her third on Sunday will forever be notable for her next steps: running to the bench to wave the Pittsburgh Steelers’ trademark Terrible Towel in celebration.
It was the highlight of the game and personified the point of the exhibition, giving Klingenberg a just reward for her quiet consistency throughout the World Cup and earlier. After being named an alternate on the 2012 Olympic roster, she’s one who shouldn’t have to worry about her place in Rio.