Alex Morgan’s 50th career international goal was just about enough for the U.S. WNT to beat England tonight at Stadium MK, just outside of London.
Badly needing a positive result after last week’s discouraging 2-0 loss to France, U.S. coach Jill Ellis won’t mind that England were denied a clear goal by poor officiating that would have made this a 1-1 tie.
But Ellis should be somewhat alarmed that when England sent forwards Eniola Aluko and Lianne Sanderson into the game as late substitutes, England suddenly became a much more troubling side.
England were strangely passive throughout most of this home game, choosing to sit back in a defensive shell, leaving their forwards outnumbered when they attempted to attack.
After a sloppy start that was over reliant on hopeful long balls, the U.S. settled down and began to control the match with good interplay between the forward and midfield lines.
Ellis disappointed a lot of observers by again starting Carli Lloyd as an outside midfielder, but in truth the dangerous Lloyd spent most of the match where she prefers, centrally. Christen Press, nominally the other U.S. winger spent even less time out wide than Lloyd, and the effect was to crowd the midfield, perhaps as a tactic to protect Morgan Brian, who had a rough outing against France.
In the end England simply did not possess the same threat that France did, allowing U.S. fullbacks Ali Krieger and Meghan Klingenberg to provide what width the U.S. attack needed on the night. Against France that was not possible, with the U.S fullbacks busily defending for their lives.
Morgan’s goal came in the 25th minute when Brian fed central midfield partner Lauren Holliday, and the former Lauren Cheney delivered a perfect left footed cross that Morgan headed home from a difficult position.
This was Morgan’s second match of the year after missing most of 2014 with ankle problems. The lethal striker showed some rust against France, indeed had Morgan finished a chance or two the result could have been different against Les Bleus.
That rust hasn’t all been chipped away just yet, but Morgan is getting closer, and tonight’s goal is a big one for the U.S. striker, and for the U.S. WNT.
Both Ellis and her England counterpart Mark Sampson were slow to go to the benches, and unlike a typical friendly we had to wait 70 minutes for the first personnel change, when England swapped defenders, as Demi Stokes made way for Alex Greenwood.
By then England had been denied a clear and clean goal, when Jodie Taylor’s goal was wrongly overturned by the officials. Ashlyn Harris saved Kirby’s initial long range blast, turning it onto the crossbar, but Harris’s former Washington Spirit teammate, Taylor was there to put away the rebound.
Taylor’s goal that wasn’t had come as the U.S. were tightening its grip on the game, but the Americans inability to add a second goal had left this match in the balance.
That balance shifted with the 79th minute introduction of Aluko for Taylor and Sanderson’s entrance two minutes later for Jo Potter. Normally first team selections for Sampson, the duo gave the England attack a new found menace.
In the end the U.S. were able to withstand England’s late rush and after finishing this European jaunt will now turn its focus to the Algarve Cup in March.
Ellis has targeted the annual Portuguese tournament as the time for settling on her starting 11 for the 2015 World Cup.
She heads home from England with plenty of questions still to be answered, from personnel to formations. Wayward goalkeeper Hope Solo will be available for the Algarve Cup, provided she satisfies Ellis and U.S. Soccer’s conditions to return.
Ashlyn Harris was not bad in her two match audition, but she did not appear to do enough to hasten Solo’s demise. In other words expect a contrite Solo to return.
Questions remain all over the pitch for Ellis, but despite the flogging her team took from France, the coach still has a wealth of talented players at her disposal. In order to beat out teams like France, Germany, and host Canada to name but a few, it will be up to Ellis to find the right combination.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 0 1
ENG 0 0 0
USA – Alex Morgan (Lauren Holiday) 25th minute
USA: 24-Ashlyn Harris; 11-Ali Krieger, 6-Whitney Engen, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 25-Meghan Klingenberg (22-Crystal Dunn, 79); 23-Christen Press (5-Kelley O’Hara, 90+2), 15-Morgan Brian, 12-Lauren Holiday, 10-Carli Lloyd; 13-Alex Morgan (8-Amy Rodriguez, 90), 20-Abby Wambach (capt.)
Subs Not Used: 7-Shannon Boxx, 9-Heather O’Reilly, 14-Julie Johnston, 16-Lori Chalupny, 17-Tobin Heath, 19-Rachel Van Hollebeke, 21-Alyssa Naeher, 26-Tori Huster
Head coach: Jill Ellis
ENG: 1-Karen Bardsley; 2-Alex Scott, 5-Steph Houghton (capt.), 6-Laura Bassett (19-Jessica Clarke, 90), 3-Demi Stokes (14-Alex Greenwood, 70); 7-Jordan Nobbs (16-Fara Williams, 81), 8-Jill Scott, 4-Jo Potter (20-Eni Aliko, 79), 11-Karen Carney; 9-Jodie Taylor (22-Lianne Sanderson, 81), 10-Fran Kirby,
Subs Not Used: 12-Gemma Bonner, 13-Siobhan Chamberlain, 15-Casey Stoney, 17-Katie Chapman, 18-Jade Moore, 21-Carly Telford
Head coach: Mark Sampson
Stats Summary: USA / ENG
Shots: 12 / 3
Shots on Goal: 6 / 2
Saves: 2 / 5
Corner Kicks: 10 / 2
Fouls: 3 / 7
Offside: 1 / 1