The journey to Rio will only be made by 14 teams out of all the eligible teams in the world. Only two of those teams will come from teams in the CONCACAF region. in a few weeks the winners of the two semi-final games will take part in a final that means a little less than most finals. This is because the two teams that will meet in the finals will have already booked their ticket to the big dance in Rio come August.
The USWNT took their first step towards that goal tonight with a huge 5-0 victory over Costa Rica. The goals were provided by Alex Morgan (2), Carli Lloyd, Crystal Dunn, and Christen Press, whose goal came off an incredible first touch can be seen above. For the women representing the US, there was a lot that went right early and the play in the middle looked like good possession with the end of the game producing a few more goals. In the game there were six players who I think stood out above the rest of the team in tonight’s game.
One of those players was Morgan Brian. She was not on the World Cup Qualifying roster but through her play for the Houston Dash she was able to force her way into the roster for the World Cup. After the first game she proved she needed to be starting and as the tournament went on she looked more comfortable playing next to Lauren Holiday. After Holiday’s retirement the center of the midfield became Brian’s to control and that is exactly what she has done. During the game with Costa Rica she was all over the field not only on the offensive side of the ball, but also tracking back to play defense as well. Her overall play made her one of the best players on the pitch tonight.
Another player who impressed in this game was Lindsey Horan. She was paired with Brian in the center of the midfield and together they dominated the midfield of Costa Rica. She was able to disperse the ball out to the wings or farther up the field when it was necessary and looked calm when in possession. It was not very apparent that she was uncomfortable where she was playing, despite the fact that she plays up font in more of a striker role for her former club team Paris St. Germain. This year she will feature for the Portland Thorns in the NWSL after the rights to sign her were traded to Portland as part of the deal that sent Alex Morgan to the new Orlando expansion team. She is another young player who along with Brian can be the future of this USWNT.
The third player who stood out to me is the striker that everyone has their eyes on, Alex Morgan. She had a fantastic day which ended with her bagging a brace, but it did not stop there. She made runs at the defense the entire game and actually played a full 90 minutes. With her two goals today she has now scored 59 goals in 101 caps for the USWNT as she looks to be the next great American scorer. As the tournament continues look for her to add more goals to her incredible record as she looks to prove she can stay fit for an entire tournament.
The fourth of these players is left midfielder Tobin Heath. There is a definite reason why EA Sports gave her 5 stars for skill moves and it was on full display tonight. She dazzled defenders with her fancy footwork and intricate moves with the ball. She won quite a few free kicks in dangerous areas and assisted on the late goal by Christen Press. She is gearing up to play in her third Olympics, should the US qualify, and her experience will be needed as she will most likely be playing with a young and mostly inexperienced, in major tournaments, midfield. Her ability on the ball and movement off it will be needed especially if Megan Rapinoe is unable to make it back in time to play in the Olympics.
The fifth player, and final starter, from today’s game who I thought stood out a little more than the rest was Crystal Dunn. She played with a lot of energy before being subbed off in the later stages of the game. Going into the summer she was a snub for the World Cup roster, but instead of getting her down she continued with her club team, the Washington Spirit, and eventually was called up for the Victory Tour. After some good performances late in the tour she earned a starting spot for the Olympic Qualifying tournament and boy did she deliver. Her goal was scored through hard work and heart as she fought through defenders and the goalie to knock the ball into the goal from inside the six yard box. If she continues to play like this she will be looked at as a replacement for Megan Rapinoe in the future.
The final player that I thought played particularly well was 17 year old Mallory Pugh. She came on later in the game, the 68th minute, in place of Crystal Dunn and played pretty well despite being a little out of position. early in her time in the game she looked a little timid but she definitely was playing with more confidence as the match progressed. She had a few looks at goal in the late stages and showed a little bit of her playmaking skill as well. The main thing that stood out was her ability to run right around defenders which is something that only Crystal Dunn was able to do consistently during the game. Pugh is going to be one of those player to watch out for as she begins her collegiate career at UCLA in the fall. As she continues to develop as a player it will be fun to see her continued development in the highly competitive USWNT program.
These were the six players I felt stood out the most and they should have bright futures ahead of all of them.