Takeaways from last night’s USWNT win over Trinidad & Tobago

alex morgan

by TOM SLATER

As has been the case for most of the United States Olympic Qualifying matches, the outcome wasn’t in doubt for very long against Trinidad and Tobago last night. The only questions were by how much and who’s doing the damage (the answers were five and Alex Morgan).

Here are the takeaways from last night’s 5-0 USWNT victory that sends the winners to their sixth straight Olympiad.

Alex Morgan is on a roll:  Her lack of scoring became a source of concern during the 2015 World Cup (one goal in the tournament).  But now that her knee seems fully healed, the popular striker is scoring again and playing some of the best soccer of her career.

Scoring a hat trick is a big deal no matter the opposition, so Morgan – and all USWNT fans – should be happy about her third all-time three-goal game. But her ability to make smart runs and link up with other players besides Carli Lloyd is even more important to get more players involved in the attack.  Against a defense that bunkered down early and often, the striker made sure she was in the right place to score those goals. And she could have scored at least two more in the match.

The lineup continues to evolve: Jill Ellis continues to tinker like a slightly mad scientist. Kelley O’Hara earned a surprise start over Ali Kreiger and did nothing to hurt her chances of seeing more significant playing time. At right back, O’Hara made lots of ventures into the offensive third and set up Morgan’s first goal with a great serve to the far post. While the Trinidad & Tobago offense wasn’t exactly pressuring the Americans, O’Hara tracked back twice when the Soca Warriors did make it into the United States’ half and won possession both times.

Teenage sensation Mallory Pugh started on the left side of midfield and had a solid 60 minutes. She continues to explore ways to break down the defense with her dribbling skills to create opportunities for her teammates. Her serve in the 12th minute gave the USWNT the lead they never relinquished. Pugh has become the favorite of many with her ability to combine speed, an unbelievable first step and soccer vision beyond her 17 years. She has proven that she can break down defenses keeping the ball on the ground and along with Lindsey Horan and Morgan Brian, the US is no longer reliant on the long ball.

It’s odd to see a player benched after scoring five goals the previous match, but that’s what Ellis did to Crystal Dunn. The electric midfielder/striker came on for Lloyd in the 66th minute after starting the previous three matches.  It’s hard to say how Dunn fared in her role coming off the bench because by that time, the game was way over.

The competition gets tougher: It’s been basically four scrimmages for the United States, although Mexico made it interesting. Starting tomorrow, the matches get harder. Although they both qualified for the Rio Games already, neither Canada nor the United States want to lose tomorrow’s tournament final.

After that, it’s Germany, France and England in the SheBelieves Cup hosted by the United States. Those teams are a substantial upgrade and will present a better barometer for the talents of Dunn, Pugh and Horan against quality competition.

That competition begins on March 3 when the US plays England.

We should get a better read on Ellis’ roster after that tournament.

Kimika Forbes’ strange night:  Goalkeeper Forbes has been one of the key players for Trinidad & Tobago but she sure had an odd go of it last night. She did make some nine saves using her hands, feet and body to stop a barrage of stops. She robbed Lloyd twice and Morgan once on 1 v 1 situations to keep the score respectable. She also had some misadventures. She collided with her sister and center back Karyn, forcing the latter to sit out for about 10 minutes in the first half. And she let in a howler on Lloyd’s header right before half, taking her eyes off the ball as it slipped through both her arms and legs for the back-breaking third goal.