10-0 Win Moves US Women Closer to 2016 Olympics
February 16, 2016
THE AMERICAN WOMEN rounded out the group stage of Olympic qualifying on Monday evening, handing Puerto Rico a 10-0 beating in Frisco, Texas.
With advancement to the semifinal assured before the match even began, U.S. head coach Jill Ellis made eight changes to her starting lineup and the American “B” team didn’t disappoint. Attacking early and often, the U.S. took a 4-0 lead going into the half before adding six more goals in the second stanza. Crystal Dunn was responsible for half of the team's output, netting five goals in the blowout.
Here are three thoughts on the match.
Making her first start for the senior side, 17-year-old Mallory Pugh didn’t take long to make her presence felt. In the sixth minute of play, she used a scissors move to beat her defender, exploded into space, and fed Crystal Dunn for the opening goal.
Then, in the 18th minute, Pugh split two defenders in the box and drew a penalty to help the U.S. double its lead. Later in the half Pugh continued to show her dominance, beating defenders with a smart combination of pace and skill and finding her teammates in on goal with a series of defense-splitting passes.
Last month, reports emerged that Pugh would skip the college ranks and head straight to the professional ranks. Many thought the move would be premature, but her performance on Monday seemed to indicate the teenager is more than ready.
With so many changes to the starting lineup, Ellis gave a number of players an opportunity to prove they deserve more time with the first team. While some, like Pugh and Kelley O’Hara, grabbed that chance, others did not.
Filthy back heel by Kelley O'Hara https://t.co/cO2Jm2BSiT— True Soccer Life (@TrueSCRLife) February 16, 2016
One such example is midfielder Sam Mewis. With the retirement of Lauren Holiday leaving a gaping hole in the U.S. midfield, Ellis has gone to Lindsey Horan in five of the team’s six previous matches (the lone exception was Abby Wambach’s farewell game in which Ellis sacrificed Horan for the retiring legend). However, a series of mixed performances from Horan may have cracked open a small opportunity for Mewis.
However, given a rare start on Monday, Mewis failed to take advantage. In the first half, the Western New York Flash midfielder gave the ball away repeatedly. Unable to find gaps in the Puerto Rican defense, Mewis unsuccessfully attempted to force the ball forward and seemingly gave Ellis no doubt that Horan should be the starter heading into the rest of the tournament
Next for the U.S. is the semifinals—really the only match that matters. If the U.S. wins—it will play either Trinidad and Tobago or Guyana—the team qualifies for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Assuming that happens (and it should), Ellis will select her final lineup. While 20 players are allowed for qualifying (17 field players and three goalkeepers), only 18 players (16 field players and two goalkeepers) are allowed for the Olympic Games.
On Monday, Ellis may have given a hint regarding which goalkeeper she is favoring for the No. 2 spot, preferring Alyssa Naeher over Ashlyn Harris. In the last 10 games, Naeher has earned three caps, including two starts. In that same span, Harris has not played a single minute.
The semifinal match will be played on Friday (8:30pm ET, NBCSN).
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.