HARRISON, N.J. – Cheers of “Let’s Go U.S.” from an energetic crowd in New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena gave the U.S. women’s national soccer team an emphatic farewell as the 23 ladies head off to Europe for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
The American women – coming into the match unbeaten in their last eight games – capped off their send-off series on Sunday afternoon with a solid 3-0 win over across-the-border rival Mexico.
Tobin Heath – playing again in front of her home crowd – opened up the scoring in the 11th minute after several minutes of high press from the American women.
A poor clearance from Mexico’s goalie, Cecilia Santiago, fell into the feet of Heath, whose quick footwork got her around one defender and the ball into the back of the net.
The defending World Cup champions went into the game 2-0 in their send-off series after beating New Zealand and South Africa earlier this month.
Coach Jill Ellis, who made some unexpected changes at halftime by moving various players into different defensive positions, said the match helped the team check off some boxes in tweaking and tinkering with the tactics before heading off to Europe.
“I think we created a lot of chances and I think the players will say that we can be sharper in the final pass – inside the 18,” Ellis told reporters during a post-match news conference. “This group creates a lot (of chances) and they’re very potent and I think, in time, we wear teams down.”
At halftime, Ellis moved several attacking midfield players into more defensive roles in the back line. She said they were pre-planned changes that showed the team’s depth and versatility.
“It’s always good to have (and) try players who can adapt and adjust and play any position needed,” she added.
The substitutes in the second half made quite the impact with Carli Lloyd, 36, teeing up Mallory Pugh, 21, to double the lead in the 76th minute. Lloyd, who nearly scored a goal herself minutes into the second half before it was called back for offside, is going into her fourth Women’s World Cup.
In the 88th minute, Christen Press added her name to the score sheet with a kick from just outside the 18-yard box for her 48th career goal in a U.S. jersey.
“Going into a tournament, we are going to need everybody and against top teams, we have the roster, we have the depth,” defender Crystal Dunn told reporters after the match. “What you saw today was people coming off the bench, two goals scored. I think it speaks volumes of our team – we are going to need everyone going into this tournament.”
The Sunday afternoon game – which featured the National Anthem played by 96-year-old World War II veteran Pete Dupre on the harmonica – capped off a whirlwind couple of days for the team in the New York City area.
Alex Morgan – who captained the first half of the game ahead of her third World Cup – told reporters that now that the sendoff series has ended and with “distractions” behind them, they will be able to get to Europe and concentrate on their first game in the tournament.
“Now is just time to focus on the World Cup and do what we do best, and that’s play soccer at a really high level and have success doing it,” she said. “We have been talking about how excited we are to get out of here – no offense to anyone – and we are ready to have that tightknit community within our team and just continue to build that chemistry.”
The American women head to France this week for the month-long World Cup tournament. The defending champions seek to do the nearly impossible of back-to-back trophies and will face Thailand in their first game on June 11.
Their group stage games are set to continue on June 16 against Chile and then on June 20 against longtime rivals Sweden. All games can be watched live on Fox Sports.