The Sports Examiner

FOOTBALL: U.S. starts slow, then hammers New Zealand, 5-0, in World Cup tune-up in St. Louis

Dangerous (left to right): U.S. strikers Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe

The U.S. Women’s National Team is ranked no. 1 in the world, but hasn’t always looked it, especially against opponents who pack in their defense and make it difficult for the U.S. to score.

That’s how the second Send-Off Series game in St. Louis’s Busch Stadium started on Thursday night, but this time the U.S. passing game came alive and led to a convincing 5-0 win over New Zealand before a happy crowd of 35,761.

On a hot and humid evening, U.S. had most of possession in the first half, but New Zealand played nine behind the ball in a 1-4-4 formation that either clogged the U.S. passing lanes or caused bad angles in the box that kept the Americans from really challenging Ferns keeper Erin Nayler.

But the U.S. finally found opportunities, with quality chances from Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn and Rose Lavelle in the 27th, 28th and 29th minutes. Then Megan Rapinoe played a seeing-eye cross from the left side of goal, that found the right foot of a streaking Tobin Health at the far side of the New Zealand net; she tapped it in for a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute.

The goal energized the U.S. and the pressure increased. Five minutes later, Lindsey Horan sent a cross from almost the same spot at the left of the Football Ferns’ goal over the head of Morgan, and right into the path of a sprinting Lavelle for a 2-0 edge.

That was the halftime score, but as the New Zealanders got noticeably tired, the U.S. kept on the attack and piled up the goals. Carli Lloyd entered for Rapinoe in the 60th minute and her first touch was a goal off of a Heath cross from the right post that was powered in for a 3-0 lead.

Lloyd scored again on a Christen Press assist in the 83rd minute, and Sam Mewis got a goal on a right-footed laser from just above the box and a 5-0 score that held up as the final.

It’s not clear how good New Zealand is; in the last five games against the U.S. – in 2015-16-2017 (2)-2019 – the U.S. has won all five by a combined 19-1 margin. And the U.S. out-shot New Zealand by 25-1. But the offensive pressure was better than against South Africa and Lloyd has underscored her game-changing ability with fast goals in nearly every appearance. In France, her fresh legs – and perhaps those of Mewis, too – might make the difference against a better opponent.

The U.S. will finish its “Send-Off Series” vs. Mexico – which did not qualify for the World Cup – on 26 June in Harrison, New Jersey.

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