Portland, Ore. – With the United States Women’s national team Fan Tribute Tour hurtling towards its finish, Abby, Alex and company welcomed Ireland to Portland’s drizzly Jeld-Wen Field. The Americans were rude hosts, riding an Alex Morgan hat trick and two goals from her replacement Sydney Leroux to a 5-0 win.
The tour, celebrating the Americans Gold Medal in the 2012 London Olympics, began way back on September 1, with an 8-0 thumping of Costa Rica in Rochester N.Y..
News broke on that day that coach Pia Sundhage was stepping down, turning the first several games of the tour into a long, emotional goodbye from fans and players to the personable Swede. Sundhage’s last game was a 1-1 tie with the world’s second ranked women’s team, Germany, the first of consecutive draws between the teams.
Two wins over Australia were sandwiched between the games with Germany, sending the U.S. into the last five games in 15 days to wrap up the tour. The women’s team and the women’s game have been making plenty of news along the way, with Australia’s Scottish born coach Tom Sermanni landing the most coveted job in the women’s game, and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati announcing a new women’s league.
U.S. national team players welcomed the new league, but at Tuesday’s practice some key players shared their apprehensions. Abby Wambach described herself as, “excited,” but contended that, “the new league poses some challenges.” The veteran striker thinks that, “this model is more suitable to succeed than the models in the past.” But, Wambach readily admits, “we still have that bad taste in our our mouths from the WUSA and the WPS.” “So,” she adds, “there’s a natural reluctance from some of us.”
Ireland sent a very young team out against their seasoned opponents, with six of coach Sue Ronan’s side born 1990 or later. The Americans had just one player, Leroux, who was born in 1990. The young Irish came out defending aggressively, seemingly unfazed by their rivals lofty status. The Americans were putting on the pressure with Tobin Heath especially lively. The breakthrough finally came in the 24th minute, and it was Alex Morgan who got the goal, her 25th of the year, with a fine left footed shot through traffic.
Morgan struck again in the 34th minute, taking a feed from Lauren Cheney, after some good work from Becky Sauerbrunn. Morgan completed the hat trick in the 44th minute with a right footed effort, with an assist by Wambach, the 27th goal of the year for the Ballon d’or favorite.
Timbers owner Merritt Paulson is the owner of the Portland franchise, and he spoke to reporters at the half. “In my mind,” Paulson said, “the third times got to work, I’m not sure how many strikes there are,” the youthful owner said. “Not to mix my sports metaphors here,” Paulson continued, “but I don’t know how many strikes you get.”
The U.S. got a 62nd minute strike from Sydney Leroux, assisted by Irish American winger Heather O’Reilly, and the the young striker added another in the 82nd.
Two of Wambach’s fellow Ballon d’or (Player of the Year) contenders, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd shared Wambach’s concerns; and excitement regarding the new league. “I think it’s great,” said Lloyd, but she added, “I think we need a league that is going to sustain.” Rapinoe said, “all the possibilities are very exciting,” but continuing the theme, she went on to say, “we are a little bit wary.”
Speaking after her hat trick heroics Morgan said the Ballon d’or was, “actually a bit of a surprise.” Morgan doesn’t appear too wrapped up in winning the prize, she was even unsure of how many Americans were nominated. “I believe there were five of us nominated from the U.S.,” Morgan said, before asking, “ is that correct?” The answer was four, the only thing Morgan got wrong all night.Morgan said that her teammates were all deserving of the award and, “the team success created success for us personally as well.” “I’m honored,” the U.S. sharpshooter,” admitted, “and we’ll see how it goes.”
As for the new league, Morgan, “is really looking forward to it.” “I’m looking forward to playing in the States,” she said, “and helping the development of women’s soccer.” Morgan is confident that the talent level will be high and, “hopes that the quality of the training facilities, of the coaches and everything is top notch.”
Morgan and her teammates were certainly top notch last night. With both coaches emptying their benches in the second half, the Irish kept their heads up and never backed down from the Olympic champions. The learning experience continues Saturday in Arizona for Ireland as the the U.S. Fan Tribute Tour rolls on.
USA: Hope Solo, Heather Mitts, Christie Rampone, capt., Becky Sauerbrunn, Rachel Buehler, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach
subs: Kelley O’Hara, Amy LePeilbet, Shannon Boxx, Amy Rodriguez, Heather O’Reilly, Sydney Leroux, Nicole Barnhart, Jill Lloyden
coach: JIll Ellis
Ireland: Emma Byrne, capt., Sophie Perry, Louise Quinn, Yvonne Tracey, Niamh Fahey, Meabh De Burca, Fiona O’Sullivan, Julie Ann Russell, Aine O’Gorman, Denise O’Sullivan, Diane Caldwell.
subs: Megan Campbell, MT McDonnell, Ruesha Littlejohn, Eve Gbadana, Shannon Smyth, Ciara Grant
coach: Sue Ronan