USWNT looks to keep the ball rolling against Mexico

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by TOM SLATER

For all intents and purposes, Saturday’s Olympic Qualifying match between the United States and Mexico is for the top spot in Group A.

A win by the United States would just leave a match against an overmatched Puerto Rico team next week. A win by Mexico and it creates a logjam at the top of the bracket.

But the way the United States came out in a 5-0 win over Costa Rica Wednesday, the Americans are on a roll.

Alex Morgan continued her sharp play against Costa Rica and the combination between her and Carli Lloyd has been a dangerous force for the United States. Of the 10 goals scored in 2016, Lloyd and Morgan have combined on five.

In the other side of the bracket, Canada impressed with a 5-0 win over Guyana with 16-year-old Deanne Rose making a big splash with a pair of goals. Trinidad and Tobago used a pair of second-half goals to beat Guatemala, 2-1.

Saturday’s game between Mexico is at 4 p.m. (EST). It will be live online on NBC Sports LiveExtra and will be replayed at 8:30 p.m. on NBCSports.

Here’s what we can look for against Mexico:

The defense may not have the day off:  Costa Rica entered the attacking third only a few times the other night. Mexico may offer more of a challenge for the solid backline of the United States. Maribel Dominguez had three goals in Mexico’s 6-0 win over Puerto Rico and has 14 in overall Olympic Qualifying.  Dominguez may be 37 years old but she proved she can still go forward when given half a chance.

Mexico won’t provide constant pressure but the defense will have to be organized and be cognizant of a quick counter-attack that springs Dominguez.  The backline for the US will also be called on to start the attack, playing through the midfield to Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath.

What will the lineup look like? Did Christen Press earn some more playing time with her spectacular finish in the 83rd minute? Will she come on a little earlier or perhaps start? And what of Kelley O’Hara? The versatile performer can play anywhere wide and many thought her performance in the knockout round of the World Cup, especially her goal against Germany, would elevate her in Jill Ellis’ rotation. Saturday’s game may shed more light on both.

A little history between the two:  Although the Mexico/USA rivalry is heated on the men’s side, it’s been very one-sided on the women’s side. The United States have won 32 of 33 matches with the Mexico’s only victory coming in 2010 during World Cup qualification. The last time the United States played Mexico it was the second of three sendoff matches before last summer’s Women World Cup and the two teams were even at 1 before the United States exploded for the final four goals. Abby Wambach had two goals and Sydney Leroux added her second of the game and Lori Chalupny came up from the back to add the final for a 5-1 victory.  None of those players are with the USWNT this year. Wambach and Chalupny retired and Leroux is pregnant.