By CAITLIN MURRAY
The U.S. Women’s National Team has made sure the ghosts of last year’s Algarve Cup didn’t linger for long.
With a second victory in the tournament against Switzerland on Friday, a comfortable 3-0 win, the USWNT looks poised to land in the Algarve Cup final and avenge last year’s worst-ever finish at the annual invitational.
Friday’s win saw contributions from veteran names on the squad as Abby Wambach, Amy Rodriguez and Alex Morgan scored goals each to lift the Americans to top Group B and tie France on points overall.
Despite a roaring finish, the USWNT struggled early to finish chances, outshooting Switzerland 8-to-1 in the first half with nothing to show for it. But the break did some good and the USWNT returned at the half firing on all cylinders.
Nine minutes from the break, a Lauren Holiday free kick was met by a jumping Morgan in the goal area, who knocked it in with the inside of her left foot.
With a rare opportunity to get substantial minutes as a second-half substitute, Rodriguez capitalized on a chance created by a charging Christen Press, whose shot was deflected into the box in the 73rd minute. Rodriguez intercepted, cut back twice through a cluster of Switzerland players, turned and chipped it over goalkeeper Stenia Michel to double the Americans’ lead.
Wambach capped off scoring in the 81st minute, little more than a minute after subbing into the match. Wambach picked off a weak pass in Switzerland’s own end, took one touch and chipped over Michel for a rare long-range finish from the striker known for her headers.
Hope Solo was called upon precious few times — Switzerland had just three shots to the USWNT’s 19 on the day — but she preserved a one-goal lead in the 60th minute with an impressive stop. Lara Dickenmann one-timed a loose ball inside the box with a rocket, but Solo was quick in her reaction and sharply knocked it away.
Ellis’ lineup was similar to the one she fielded on Wednesday for the USWNT’s 2-1 win over Norway, but among other shifts, Megan Rapinoe returned to the field for the first time since suffering an injury in January. Shannon Boxx was a surprise second-half substitution with the 37-year-old seeing her first national team minutes since March 2013.
Carli Lloyd, whose heroics single-handedly assured a U.S. win Wednesday over Norway had a couple long-range shots that were just off target.
The USWNT is expected to beat Iceland on Monday and top Group B to land in the tournament’s final. Waiting there could be France, the team that currently leads Group C and shares the overall top position in points with the Americans. France beat the U.S. just last month in a 2-0 win that left the Americans looking exposed and could provide a good pre-World Cup test.
The Women’s World Cup is three months away and the Algarve Cup is seen as the last, best opportunity for the Americans to simulate this summer’s tournament in Canada.
With the USWNT’s unblemished record in this Algarve Cup, they won’t place worse than fourth, meaning last year’s embarrassing seventh-place finish will not be repeated. At the 2014 Algarve Cup, the USWNT lost back-to-back matches and conceded their most-ever goals in what appeared to be the catalyst for both coach Tom Sermanni being fired and the USWNT losing their No. 1 world ranking from FIFA.
The Americans still struggled last month when they faced France and England in an overseas tour, but have done better in Portugal, connecting passes, using width and avoiding too many long balls in this Algarve Cup.
The USWNT faces Iceland on Monday at 1:30 p.m. ET, but the match will not be broadcast on TV due to infrastructure issues.
Watch Amy Rodriguez’s goal: