U.S. Beats Mexico, 1-0, But Struggles Along the Way
February 14, 2016
THE UNITED STATES women’s national team assured advancement to the knockout round of Olympic qualifying with a 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday afternoon in Frisco, Texas. The U.S.’ lone goal in the contest came via Carli Lloyd, who managed to put back her own rebound on a penalty kick in the 79th minute.
Here are three things we learned from the match.
AMERICANS DISJOINTED EARLY
In sharp contrast to the U.S.’ fast start against Costa Rica on Wednesday, the Americans couldn’t get their feet out of the mud on Saturday.
Absent the final score, there’s not really a positive to take away from Saturday’s contest. The Yanks repeatedly gave away possession from every position on the field. As Mexico sat back in a low block, the Americans impatiently tried to force the ball forward instead of changing the point of attack and waiting for gaps to open up on their own.
Every player on the U.S. squad sloppily gave the ball away with poor passes and heavy touches and, frankly, the U.S. win required more than a fair share of luck. The two teams headed into the locker room at halftime tied 0-0 and the score would have remained that way if not for a dubious penalty call just before the 80-minute mark. On the ensuing penalty, Mexican goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago saved Lloyd’s initial effort, but the midfielder followed up her shot and tucked the ball into the net on her second try.
Despite all that, the U.S. still almost managed to blow the lead gifted to them when Jaelene Hinkle lost possession in the 86th minute. On the ensuing counterattack, Mexico forced Hope Solo into a fingertip save to preserve the lead.
Despite the disjointed performance, the win actually sets the U.S. up nicely for the rest of the tournament. The Americans head into their final group stage game with six points and play Puerto Rico in the final game—easily the weakest team in the group having already lost to Mexico 6-0 and Costa Rica 9-0.
That means the U.S. is virtually assured of winning its group and facing one of three opponents (48th-ranked Trinidad and Tobago, 76th-ranked Guatemala, or 89th-ranked Guyana) in the all-important semifinal game. The winner of the semifinal game not only advances to the final, but earns one of the two CONCACAF spots in the 2016 Olympic Games.
It’s difficult to say right now whether head coach Jill Ellis needs to re-examine her starting lineup or not. The U.S. looked unstoppable on Wednesday against Costa Rica and likely just had an off night against Mexico.
Even normally dependable players like Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, and Morgan Brian gave the ball away far more than usual and Christen Press—who some have argued should be starting up top instead of Alex Morgan—failed to substantively change the game after subbing on at the beginning of the second half.
Against Puerto Rico on Monday, Ellis is likely to make wholesale changes to her lineup, both because advancement to the knockout round is assured and because of the short turn-around time.
However, two of Ellis’ substitutions on Saturday were curious. In the 75th minute, Ellis inserted Mallory Pugh for Ali Krieger at right back. With the game still scoreless at that point, a tie would have benefitted the U.S., not Mexico, heading into the final game of group play. Still, Ellis chose to destabilize the back line and gamble on an attacking option.
Then, Ellis introduced Jaelene Hinkle into the match four minutes after the U.S. gained the lead. Seconds later, the inexperienced defender coughed up possession and nearly allowed Mexico to equalize. This all happened while Kelley O’Hara—an experienced and highly qualified left back—remained on the bench.
The U.S. plays Puerto Rico on Monday (8:30pm ET, NBCSN).
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.