U.S. women led by back line in New Zealand shutout

April 4, 2015 Team USA

ST. LOUIS — This is a good sign for the U.S.

Earlier this week, coach Jill Ellis compared certain aspects of New Zealand’s style of play to Australia, the first team the Americans face in this summer’s World Cup on June 8. And in their first of four exhibition matches before heading to Canada, the U.S. women beat New Zealand 4-0 Saturday in front of 35,817 fans at Busch Stadium. The crowd was a record for a stand-alone U.S. women’s soccer match at home.

The USA was dominant, especially the back line, which scored three of the four goals.

The first came in the 14th minute when left back Meghan Klingenberg came crashing into the penalty box and smashed a rocket into the upper left corner from about 26 yards out. The ball had bounced outside the box after Ali Krieger crossed it from the right side. The goal was only the second of Klingenberg’s career. The first came a few months ago during a World Cup qualifier against Haiti and looked almost identical.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Klingenberg said. “I was like twice, are you kidding?”

he front line wasn’t as sharp and missed opportunities that had potential to be game-changing plays. For example, Amy Rodriguez had a perfect volley inside the box hit the left post in the 38th minute.

Players have said attacking in the final third is something they need to work on.

“We want to do better in the run of play and have a little bit more buildup in that attacking third and finish our chances,” Christie Rampone said earlier this week. “It’s a process.”

With about 14 minutes to play, something changed. With the score still 1-0, St. Louis native Lori Chalupny, who came in for Klingenberg, scored in front of her home crowd off a cross from Megan Rapinoe in the 76th minute.

“Krieger on the right side was pretty jealous,” Klingenberg joked. “She wanted to be moved to the left and get in on the scoring action.”

Two minutes later, Lauren Holiday took a free kick from about 30 yards out and Julie Johnston ran near the penalty kick spot and headed it into the goal to put the U.S. up 3-0. Holiday and Johnston combined for a similar goal in the Algarve Cup final against France.

On a day when her forwards struggled to finish, Ellis smiled while talking about her back line stepping up.

“I’m a glass half full kind of person, so I’m thrilled because that’s a massive add on,” she said. “They’re going to come into play (in the World Cup), I know they will. We talk a lot about scoring in transition, scoring off set pieces, scoring in the run of play, and I think those set piece goals were a good takeaway. Our defenders are very good in the air, so on a set piece, that should be one of their strengths and service comes into play.

“But I’m excited because it’s a who do you focus on kind of thing.”

Three minutes after Johnston’s goal — and just two minutes after coming in the game — Morgan Brian caught a pass from Sydney Leroux down the middle of the field and slotted a fourth goal into the far corner.

With the amount of depth the U.S. has, and a need for players to be fresh for potentially seven games during the month-long World Cup, not everyone is going to start every game. Ellis is looking for players to come off the bench and make an immediate impact.

“We had a lot of subs coming in and playing huge and I think that having the roster being announced very soon, players are taking it up a notch and they came up big for us,” Alex Morgan said. “Subs are going to be huge for us in the World Cup.”

Morgan didn’t have many chances in the first half, but missed a few opportunities in the second half. She was complimentary of the defenders who scored, but was frustrated about her shots that went wide or balls that went over her head.

“At the end of the day we won 4-0, and I know for myself the goals will come,” she said. “I think we’re getting a feel for the style Jill wants for us, and I think it’s all coming together. And historically we are a second-half team, so we’re trying to bring it as much as we can in the first half.”

(Via USA Today)