The U.S. handed New Zealand a 3-1 loss Friday night in Colorado behind a pair of goals from versatile Julie Ertz and one from rejuvenated striker Alex Morgan. With no World Cup or Olympics to prepare for this year coach Jill Ellis has experimented frequently in 2017, often with poor results.
Ellis has shrugged off disappointing results but with France 2019 still some way off the coach is carefully cataloging the ups and down, so here a few notes from Friday night.
Sometimes the Answer is Right Under Your Nose
Ever since defensive midfielder Shannon Boxx slowed down and eventually retired the U.S. WNT, under three coaches, has struggled to find a replacement, shoehorning attack-minded players from Lauren Holiday to Morgan Brian, to Allie Long, and Lindsey Horan into an ill-suited role.
That awkward fit was often overcome by the sheer talent of the individuals and the team, particularly in Holiday’s case at the 2015 World Cup. The results have been less impressive of late causing Ellis to make the curious move of disrupting her defense to install Becky Sauerbrunn at d-mid when a much better option was right there under her nose.
As Julie Johnson, Julie Ertz starred alongside Sauerbrunn at the 2015 Cup in central defense but by any name, the Chicago Red Star player was starring at the defensive mid spot for her club and it was no surprise when Ertz shone when finally entrusted with the job during the Tournament of Nations.
We were hoping to see Ertz in that position from the start versus New Zealand and since GotSoccer would never to say we told you so…
2) Is Morgan Back?
Now 28 years old the one-time “Wondergirl” of U.S. Soccer had most of us wondering if she would ever recapture the unstoppable aura that had once surrounded her.
Injury after injury plus the rise of younger options made Morgan’s hold on her position at the top of the U.S attack appear increasingly tenuous but Morgan has responded.
Good health and a productive working relationship with Brazilian legend Marta with the Orlando Pride sent Morgan into the New Zealand doubleheader on a high and “Baby Horse” kept her momentum with a goal on Friday against the Football Ferns.
So, is Morgan back? It may be slightly premature to say that, but if she is, that is another problem solved for Ellis.
3) 1 and 100
On a night when Kelley O’Hara captained the side on the occasion of her 100th U.S. WNT camp, Sophia Huerta made her first appearance with the Yanks after her change of national association was approved by FIFA.
An attacker who operates up front or out wide for the Chicago Red Stars, Huerta subbed in for fullback when Taylor Smith picked up a knock on Friday night and contributed an assist on Morgan’s goal.
O’Hara has shown similar versatility over the years, starring at Stanford as a striker before going on to play anywhere from fullback to forward at the club level. After playing a lot of wide midfield with the national team, O’Hara has established herself as the starting right fullback under Ellis, although she still gets the occasional run further up the pitch.
It has been a great career for O’Hara, one that has plenty of life still while Huerta’s time with the U.S. WNT is just beginning after a youthful fling with Mexico.
Congratulations to them both.
September 19, 2017 (7:30 PM ET) WNT vs New Zealand
Nippert Stadium (Univ. of Cincinnati); Cincinnati, Ohio
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 2 1 3
NZL 0 1 1
USA – Julie Ertz (Lindsey Horan) 16th minute
USA – Julie Ertz 24
NZL – Hannah Wilkinson (Ali Riley) 75
USA – Alex Morgan (Sofia Huerta) 79
USA: 1-Alyssa Naeher; 22-Taylor Smith (11-Sofia Huerta, 51), 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 7-Abby Dahlkemper, 5-Kelley O’Hara (capt.) (14-Casey Short, 77); 8-Julie Ertz, 3-Samantha Mewis (20-Allie Long, 60), 9-Lindsey Horan (6-Morgan Brian, 74); 2-Mallory Pugh (19-Crystal Dunn, 60), 13-Alex Morgan, 15-Megan Rapinoe (23-Christen Press, 60)
Substitutes: 18-Jane Campbell
Head coach: Jill Ellis
NZL: 1-Erin Nayler; 2-Ria Percival, 5-Meikayla Moore, 6-Rebekah Stott, 7-Ali Riley (capt.); 13-Rosie White (18-Aimee Phillips, 87), 10-Annalie Longo, 11-Kirsty Yallop (16-Olivia Chance, 84), 12-Betsy Hassett, 14-Katie Bowen; 17-Hannah Wilkinson
Substitutes: 21-Anna Leat 23-Victoria Esson, 3-Anna Green, 4-Cj Bott, 8-Daisy Cleverley, 20-Malia Steinmetz, 22-Katie Rood, 25-Liz Anton, 26-Jane Barnett
Head coach: Tony Readings
Stats Summary: USA / NZL
Shots: 14 / 5
Shots on Goal: 4 / 3
Saves: 2 / 1
Corner Kicks: 7 / 3
Fouls: 8 / 11
Offside: 0 / 1
NZL – Annalie Longo (caution) 46th minute