- Jill Ellis made seven changes to the USA lineup after a 13-0 win over Thailand, but a similar dominance ensued, with only Chilean goalkeeper Christiane Endler keeping the Americans from a second straight thrashing at the Women's World Cup.
It’s a good thing the U.S. women's national team scored its goals in the first half of its second match at the Women's World Cup, because Chile might have the best goalkeeper in the competition.
Carli Lloyd scored two goals to sandwich one from Julie Ertz, and the U.S. won 3-0 on Sunday, but Chilean keeper Christiane Endler was the star of the game. The outcome could have easily looked more like the Americans’ record-setting 13-0 rout of Thailand—just ask Christen Press, who had a number quality shots, all of which were turned away by Endler. The U.S. had an official total of 26 shots, nine on goal, but the Chile and PSG goalkeeper was an acrobatic hero.
As the Americans head into their final group stage game on Thursday against rival Sweden, it does so sitting atop Group F with six points and a goal differential edge of +10, meaning a draw will be sufficient in order to finish in first place. And not only that, the majority of regular American starters, including Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe and Crystal Dunn, will be rested after not playing a single minute against Chile. Jill Ellis swapped seven different players in her starting lineup on Sunday and made enough substitutions that every single field player has earned playing time through two matches–including 20-year-old Tierna Davidson (two assists) and 31-year-old Jessica McDonald, who both made their Women's World Cup debuts.
The U.S. now has four days to prepare for its final group stage game against Sweden, which will determine where each side goes in the knockout bracket. And with that, here are three thoughts from the Americans’ victory over Chile:
Carli Lloyd is still here
So about Carli Lloyd. She scored two goals and nearly had a third, becoming the first player to score in six consecutive Women’s World Cup games. Lloyd is now up to 10 total World Cup goals for her career, putting her just behind Abby Wambach (14) and Michelle Akers (12) among Americans.
The 36-year-old captain, though, has struggled getting used to her role on this team heading into this tournament. The 2015 Women's World Cup hero has been mostly been coming off the bench as of late and has made it clear she’d rather be starting. She has also made it clear that she will help her team any way possible—for example, Lloyd came on as a substitute against Thailand and scored the last goal of the 13-0 rout, earning plaudits for her act of sportsmanship toward Thailand's goalkeeper in the aftermath.
On Sunday, Ellis made sweeping changes to her lineup, and Lloyd was one of them, playing up top with Mallory Pugh and Press, while Morgan, Heath and Rapinoe got the day off. Lloyd took advantage of the opportunity and went full beast mode–though a missed penalty kick in the 81st minute spoiled a chance at a hat trick and will likely keep her from being totally happy with her performance.
One of the knocks on Lloyd heading into this World Cup was her presumed fitness level. Lloyd, however, has maintained she’s in the best shape of her life. She’s arguably more committed to retooling and perfecting her game than anybody and played a full 90 minutes against Chile. Only so many players can start, Lloyd knows that. She just believes she should be one of them. Maybe she gave Ellis something more to think about with her play on Sunday.
Set pieces haves always been a huge advantage and focus for the U.S. leading into big tournaments, given the players' size and physical attributes, and Chile had no answer for two of the Americans’ greatest weapons on Sunday: Lloyd and Ertz’s heads.
Taking over corner kicking duty for Rapinoe, 20-year-old Tierna Davidson had plenty of perfect balls. In the 26th minute, Davidson found Ertz, a well-known unstoppable aerial presence, who bolted for the near post and headed the ball into the back of the net to score her first goal of this tournament. Then in the 35th minute, Davidson found Lloyd in the middle of the box for her second goal of the day.
The U.S. had 15 corner kicks, scoring on two, and will need to keep creating these kinds of opportunities as the tournament gets more competitive.
A nervy moment for Naeher
Whereas Endler was spectacular for Chile, her counterpart, Alyssa Naeher wasn’t tested nearly as much. Sunday marked the first time the U.S. goalkeeper was called into action on the World Cup stage, and while the U.S.'s play has largely been flawless, it served as a warning for the future.
Early in the first half, Chile nearly equalized after Lloyd’s first goal on a well-designed set piece. Two Chilean players got in behind the back line, and on rushed Naeher, who whiffed on the play and allowed a goal into an open net. The goal was rightly called back for offside, but it was the first time the Americans faced a brief feeling of letdown in the competition–until the flag went up. It didn't count, and Naeher was otherwise sure-handed, but it does give the keeper something to think about with stronger and more clinical opponents looming.
The biggest question mark for the U.S. in this Women's World Cup is Naeher’s experience. She’s been compared to her predecessor Hope Solo and is starting in her first major tournament. Naeher is focused and doesn’t listen to the outside noise. Most elite athletes are like that. But the U.S. cannot afford to have her make mistakes like that moving forward, especially as the games get tougher. Perhaps this was the right kind of wake-up call she needed after getting little action last week against Thailand, and put up against the backdrop of Endler's stellar showing on the other side, it revealed an area where the U.S. could still be vulnerable.