The U.S. Women’s National Team recorded another victory on Thursday with this one coming against Mexico.
The scoring started early, as Mallory Pugh put the U.S. up, 1-0, after six minutes. The home team truly put the game out of reach at the beginning of the second half, as the U.S. scored three goals in a four-minute span. Alex Morgan, the captain on the night, scored twice, while Carli Lloyd scored just seconds after she came on.
Mexico got a goal of their own in the 64th minute, as Katie Johnson chipped Alyssa Naeher for the finish. While Mexico got a moment of reprieve, the game always appeared to be out of reach for them.
The U.S. dominated from beginning to end, recording plenty of shots as they kept possession. Mexico had chances scattered throughout the match, most of them eventually handled by the U.S. defense. It looked almost like a commanding victory that the U.S. team has become known for over the years, with a little room for improvement.
Here is a closer look at the match:
HORAN SHINES IN DOMINANT MIDFIELD PERFORMANCE
While the SheBelieves Cup ended with a trophy for USWNT, there were a lot of questions surrounding the midfield at the end of the three-match tournament. With a few starters missing, Jill Ellis had to figure out what her next best midfield looked like and had yet to find the answers. Questions also surrounded Lindsey Horan, who has been asked to play deeper in midfield. Many have wondered whether or not the role is best suited for her, but Horan had possibly her best night in the role for the U.S. against Mexico.
Horan’s strong night, which saw her boss the midfield and record the assist on Lloyd’s goal, meant a better performance for the midfield. The connection between the three in the middle and the front three was much smoother than it was against France, when all of the same players got the start. Morgan Brian also looked better than she did during the SheBelieves Cup, effectively keeping Mexico out for a majority of the match.
The performance comes against inferior opposition, especially when compared to the U.S.’ first four opponents of the year, and there is still room for improvement, but the signs are still encouraging.
DAVIDSON CONTINUES STRONG START
Tierna Davidson has been a force since she recorded her first cap in January, playing every minute of the team’s first four matches. It was part of Ellis’s plans all along to give her minutes, but in the absence of Becky Sauerbrunn, Davidson kept her spot and played every minute of the team’s opening four games. With both of them now in camp for the first time, Ellis had a choice to make. She picked Davidson.
The choice could ultimately be down to just giving Davidson more minutes. The Stanford player is only five matches into her international career, while Sauerbrunn is a well-known option who is not desperate for playing time. The co-captain ended up getting 13 minutes on Thursday as she makes her return from a stress reaction in her left foot.
The choice to play Davidson, whatever the reasoning, was definitely a good one, as the Stanford player put in another solid performance. It may have been the least work she had to do in her international career thus far, but she once again looked calm on and off the ball. She continues to make quite the case for herself as the Concacaf Women’s Championship nears.
While Davidson stood out, other members of the defense could not say the same.
Davidson’s partner at center back, Abby Dahlkemper, did not enjoy the same success against Mexico. Her positioning is questionable from time to time, and was the case on Mexico’s goal, scored by Katie Johnson. Emily Sonnett got her second consecutive start at right back, and she left a little to be desired. She did her job defensively, but took few opportunities to make runs forward, something Ellis asks of her fullbacks. Crystal Dunn, who slotted in at left back, did just that, but she is clearly still relearning the position after spending years playing further up the pitch.
The inconsistency extends to goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. After an impressive showing at the SheBelieves Cup, she had a shaky match. She did not look comfortable with her feet, and mistimed a move on a Mexico chance in the first half. Johnson’s goal was a result of Naeher coming off her line, only for Johnson to chip the ball over her, making for an uncharacteristic off night.
THE DUNN QUESTION
Dunn started at left back again, the first time since before the 2015 World Cup for the national team. While she did well enough, her recent inclusion there begs the question: Does she really belong there?
Dunn has enjoyed a run of form going back almost three years as a dynamic, goal scoring attacker for club and country. While she continues to get the chance to do so on the club level, she has not regularly started for the U.S. in quite some time, leaving Ellis to consider her as back up to Kelley O’Hara at left back in order to get her on the field. The player herself says she would rather be on the field than not, regardless of position, but there is a question as to whether or not there is a compelling enough argument to keep her out of the rotation up top.
Dunn is clearly suited to playing in the three-person front line that Ellis prefers. Being such a flexible player, she can play in wider positions and in the center, but Ellis clearly prefers Pugh and Megan Rapinoe in the wide areas and Morgan in the center. While it is important not to mess with a good thing, Dunn might be able to crack the lineup further up the pitch if given the chance.
SUCCESS AGAINST LOCAL RIVAL
Playing Mexico six months away from the World Cup qualifying tournament is incredibly advantageous to see how the U.S. stacks itself against its future competition. Though the USWNT had just come off of beating some of the world’s best teams, Mexico presented a different task.
Mexico is a classic example of young women’s national teams programs looking to close the gap on the world’s best. While they may not boast the world’s best players, the squad is made up of technically gifted players who can get themselves into good situations to varying levels of success. They can also be tough to break down, particularly against the better international sides.
Mexico did a better job of holding off the U.S. in the first half than they did in the second, but the hosts succeeded in their task of being able to beat this type of team. The performance is another confidence boost, considering a few of the teams they may come across during the Women’s Championship will be structured similarly.