HOUSTON — Alex Morgan had a hat trick, and the U.S. women’s national team qualified for the 2016 Olympics with a convincing 5–0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago on Friday. With the U.S. aiming for its fourth straight Olympic gold medal in August, the Americans’ performance was such that anyone who follows this team has to feel optimistic, not just about the present but about the future as well.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis gave starts to 17-year-old Mallory Pugh and 21-year-old Lindsey Horan, and each was terrific, with Pugh terrorizing the left wing and Horan owning the central midfield. But this was also an impressive team effort. The U.S. was clicking from the start, with a high tempo and quick interchanges that flustered the overmatched opponent.
The U.S. will meet rival Canada in the final of the qualifying tournament on Sunday, but the stakes in that game will be pride alone with both teams having punched a ticket for Rio 2016 on Friday.
Here are three quick thoughts on the game:
Get to know Mal Pugh
The 17-year-old got the start in a must-win game and was one of the U.S.’s best players, buzzing up and down the left flank and creating general mayhem for the Trinidadians. Pugh has speed to spare and showed it multiple times, but beyond that she has terrific skills and instincts, and she sure can deliver a cross. It was Pugh’s ball into the box that Tobin Heath finished for the first U.S. goal, and Pugh was able to get to some balls that she had no business reaching. We tend to overhype our young American soccer players, so don’t go overboard just yet. But UCLA has a fine freshman coming its way next fall—at least once the Olympics are over. Whether Pugh stays in the starting lineup remains to be seen, but she looked good out there.
This U.S. team is fun to watch
While the Americans failed to capitalize on a bunch of first-half chances, the game was pure entertainment, with opportunities galore against a T&T team that the U.S. only beat by a 1–0 score in World Cup qualifying in late 2014. Morgan’s finishing came around in the second half as she found the back of the net twice and showed she’s primed for her first double-digit year in goals since 2012 (She’s already at six for 2016). Carli Lloyd was a constant threat, Heath had a superb opening finish and Morgan Brian and Horan were seamless in the midfield. No wonder Ellis couldn’t help but smile on the bench.
The U.S. pressure was suffocating
The U.S. back line and goalkeeper Hope Solo had little to do all night, and much of that was a credit to the team’s pressure defense in the Trinidadian end. Even when T&T managed to snuff out a dangerous U.S. attack, it was only a matter of seconds before Horan or Brian or someone else had won the ball back and started cranking up another scoring opportunity. There’s a real life to this U.S. squad at the moment. Part of that comes from the accomplished veterans. But maybe part of that also comes from having more turnover than many expected after the World Cup. There are spots up for grabs on this team, which you know is the case when players like Christen Press and Crystal Dunn and Ali Krieger aren’t starting in a must-win game with the Olympics on the line. The depth is there, though, everyone. The depth is there.