USA get through send off match, ready for Olympics

celebration against costa rica

by TOM SLATER

As far as sendoff matches go, Costa Rica was the perfect host.

They didn’t put up much of a fight. The match never got chippy.  The United States was able to get its work in in front of 12,000-plus fans in the sweltering heat in Kansas City. The result was a 4-0 victory that was decided in the opening 45 minutes.

USWNT coach Jill Ellis used the sendoff match to literally work the rust off the lineup she’ll be using in Rio. Blistering the Costa Rican defense from the opening whistle, the Americans pressed constantly, using their speed and aggressive style to put the visitors on their heels all night.

After a couple of close calls, the United States scored in the 15th minute on a smartly timed run by Meghan Klingenberg, followed by a perfectly timed serve to Crystal Dunn for the one-timer.

Mallory Pugh showed that speed kills when she stole an errant pass just inside midfield and went in on goal. While Costa Rica looked for a pass similar to Klingenberg’s, the just-turned-18-year-old midfielder fooled everyone by beating goalkeeper Dinnia Diaz near post.

In the sixth minute of stoppage time, Carli Lloyd showed she was back when she headed in a free kick from Becky Sauerbrunn. It was her 88th international goal and the first one since being injured this spring. Christen Press finished the scoring with a clinical strike in the 79th minute.

With the Americans’ first game 10 days away, here is what we know:

Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd looked fine: Lloyd played the full 90 minutes (which was really 100 with even more stoppage time due to two water breaks). She and Morgan worked well together and were dangerous much of the night. Morgan was just off a couple of times when she could have finished off at least three shots.  Lloyd looked like Lloyd. She scored on the head ball — which was nice — but more important, she looked confident on the ball and showed no lingering effects from the leg injury that sidelined her this spring and summer.

With both healthy, this spells bad news for the United States opponents.

Speed kills: Pugh showed why she has cemented herself on the team, particularly in the first half. Her speed kept Costa Rica off balance all game. She consistently got behind the defense and was accurate on her serves. The goal was the result of defenders not wanting to step up and get embarrassed immediately but also giving her too much room. Pugh took advantage of that hesitancy with a great near shot goal that put the Americans up, 2-0.

There’s still decisions to be made by Ellis on starting lineups. And the competition will be better in Brazil. But Pugh, along with Klingenberg and Kelley O’Hara, allows the United States to play that pressing game for 90 minutes.

They did in the blistering heat in Kansas City (92 degrees at game time). They should do it in Brazil

Is Megan Rapinoe really going to play in Brazil?  Rapinoe was not on the game roster against Costa Rica. She has not played since last fall. She has been declared fit and ready to go, participating in full training. Ellis said how important she was when announcing the roster and that she has the “it factor” in her ability to come through in big spots, especially on set pieces. Both Glenn Davis and Julie Foudy talked about how easy it was to replace an injured player on the roster. Maybe Rapinoe is still in the recovery mode and Ellis wants to make sure she’s ready for the knockout round. And her leadership abilities may be needed with this young squad. It might not be out of the question that Heather O’Reilly gets back on the roster in Brazil if Rapinoe isn’t eventually game-ready.

The American first game in Brazil is August 3 against New Zealand (6 p.m. EST, NBCSN, NBC Universo). On August 6, the team plays France (4 p.m. EST, NBCSN, NBC Universo). The United States plays its final match on Aug. 9 versus Colombia (6 p.m. EST, NBCSN, NBC Universo).