FOOTBALL: U.S. women get untracked with wild 5-3 win over Australia in Colorado

Mallory Pugh celebrates one of her two goals in the 5-3 win over Australia (Photo: U.S. Soccer)

The U.S. women’s National Team entered a crucial test against Australia on Thursday with lots of questions.

Could they score? Could they defend? Could they win against a team that had beaten them, 1-0, and tied, 1-1, in their meetings in the past two years?

The Americans scored a lot and defended just enough to record an entertaining 5-3 victory in Commerce City, Colorado, just outside of Denver.

The U.S. had scored seven goals all season and had not shown much ability to hold onto the ball and create consistent chances. Against the Matildas, a team against which it had scored once in its last 180 minutes, the U.S. scored the most goals this season and its highest total since it collected six against Jamaica last October in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship semis.

And Jamaica is not Australia.

But this was a difficult game for the U.S., although it started well. The Americans had possession and pressure from the opening, and Alex Morgan scored her 100th career goal in the 14th minute to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead. She’s the seventh U.S. player to reach the century mark, and earned it with a right-footed laser after fighting off a defender and dribbling into the middle of the box for the shot.

The advantage was short-lived, as Australia’s Lisa De Vanna rocketed a shot from the left side past U.S. keeper Alyssa Naeher in the 29th minute for a 1-1 tie. Once again, the U.S. right side was exposed, as it has been over and over again in 2019.

The half ended 1-1, although there were near-misses by Megan Rapinoe and Lindsey Horan for the U.S. and striker Sam Kerr for Australia.

The Matildas immediately got control of the second half with a goal in the 47th minute. Caitlin Foord picked up a loose ball in the U.S. zone, spun around to open up space in the middle of the box and hit a right-footed shot that Naeher tipped, but could not stop. Australia 2, U.S. 1.

For the U.S., it was the third game in the last four (and four of six this season) that its opponent had scored at least twice. That’s a problem, and it got worse.

But the U.S. got even thanks to a Tobin Heath header off a nice cross from right back Emily Sonnett in the 53rd minute and went ahead on a Rapinoe twist-and-score effort off a bad Aussie clearance, with a right-footed shot that raced past keeper Lydia Williams.

Moments after coming in for Rapinoe, Colorado native Mallory Pugh found herself open to the right of goal and the ball at her feet courtesy of Sonnett and she drilled her shot for what appeared to a decisive 4-2 lead in the 67th minute.

Australia’s star striker Kerr made it a game again in the 80th minute with a header off a cross by Hayley Raso and it was suddenly 4-3. But the U.S. defense was a bit more stout as substitutes came in late and Pugh scored again in the 95th minute for the 5-3 final. This was a really unusual goal in that Naeher’s goal kick sailed way down the field – thanks to the thin mountain air – and found Pugh racing towards the Maltidas goal and chipped the ball over Williams and into the goal.

There are a lot of positives in this game for the U.S., most notably more offense and more cohesion in possession. The U.S. backline continues to be porous and coach Jill Ellis might be looking to others in Sunday’s game in Los Angeles against Belgium (9 p.m. Eastern time, ESPN2) for more help in the back.

But five goals and a win over Australia? The U.S. will take that any day of any week!