As the U.S. women’s national team inches closer to this summer’s World Cup, the team is trying to build its cohesion and sharpness to peak in June.
Luckily, a 5-0 win over New Zealand on Thursday offered some reassurance that the Americans are well on their way.
Though it seemingly took the U.S. some time to adjust to a patchy surface laid over the baseball diamond at Busch Stadium, eventually things started to come together in sparkling fashion.
The USWNT’s first goal in the 35th minute was well-worked by the attacking three that is expected to feature in France in this summer. Alex Morgan did well to hold the ball up and lay it off to Megan Rapinoe, who sent an inch-perfect cross behind the backline. Tobin Heath, on a well-timed run, was there for the tap-in:
Just five minutes later, another goal was created by a different trio. Crystal Dunn laid the ball off to an on-running Lindsey Horan, who sent a deep cross to the back post. Rose Lavelle sprinted onto it and finished with a one-time strike:
In the second half, Carli Lloyd scored less than a minute after coming on. Again, it was a goal created with passes instead of individual efforts. Samantha Mewis sprayed the ball out to Heath, who crossed into Lloyd’s path:
Lloyd scored again in the 83rd minute, and Mewis tagged on the last goal a minute later.
The U.S. women now have just one final send-off match before heading to France for the World Cup – they will face Mexico at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., on May 26. The USWNT’s first game of the World Cup is on June 11 against Thailand.
Here are three takeaways from the USWNT’s win over New Zealand:
Can the USWNT attack in different ways?
The U.S. attack looked very good against New Zealand. There’s little to quibble about when the Americans are scoring the sort of goals they did on Thursday: well-worked team goals.
But notably, as is often the case with the Americans, the goals were created with crosses coming from the wings. In a World Cup, where it’s important to have as many options as possible, there’s a lingering worry. If opposing teams can shut down the flanks, they may just shut down the USWNT altogether.
After all, when the USWNT was knocked out by Sweden in the 2016 Olympics, the U.S. desperately pumped cross after cross after cross into the box, and it didn’t work because the Swedes had packed the area. After a stunning 38 attempted crosses, we all know how that ended.
It’s been on the wish list for supporters of the USWNT for years: Can they work the ball through the middle and on the ground? New Zealand didn’t force them to do that, and we may find out in France.
Depth may be imperfect, but it’s scary good in spots
After the USWNT beat South Africa a few days ago, one our takeaways was that the Americans seemed to lack depth in key positions.
For instance: Julie Ertz, a starting midfielder, seemed to be the next choice behind the starters at center back, which isn’t ideal. Coach Jill Ellis has said that Kelley O’Hara, the starting right back, is the backup at left back, which is also not really much depth at all.
But consider the depth that came on for the Americans on Thursday.
Carli Lloyd, who figures to play a reduced role in this World Cup, came on for Rapinoe and scored within 44 seconds. A few minutes later, she scored again.
Meanwhile, Mewis replaced Horan at halftime because Horan is still coming back from injury, and Mewis was again excellent on both sides of the ball. Mewis didn’t score twice, like she did on Sunday, but she did score once.
That sort of game-changing depth in the attack could help the USWNT run-and-gun its way through France. The defensive depth is still a concern, but the U.S. has attackers to spare.
Aren’t we past the ugly fields?
Once the opening whistle blew, the very first thing anyone seemed to notice was that field.
Busch Stadium is where the St. Louis Cardinals play, and the Cardinals are a baseball team. Sod was laid over the dirt parts of the diamond, but there were very visible seams that could be seen on TV and from the press box.
Upon closer inspection, it looked just as bad:
Not exactly the smoothest surface when you put a soccer field down on a baseball infield. Busch Stadium for USWNT vs. New Zealand. pic.twitter.com/XR9JOEo67U
— Graham Hays (@grahamhays) May 15, 2019
It’s not the ideal surface for players who are less than a month away from the biggest tournament they will play in four years.
The players and their union do have some say in scheduling decisions, something that was negotiated for in their new collective bargaining agreement. But it hasn’t been a perfect partnership, and the players have made it clear in the past when they’ve been upset with scheduling decisions.
There are no reports of the players being upset about the field, but the surface did seem to affect the game with its awkward bumps and slow speed.
Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women’s national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.
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