These U.S. national team friendlies ahead of the Women’s World Cup next month are not designed to show the Americans at their finest. Rather, they are final honing exercises before the squad lands in Canada.
That said, the U.S. squad fell well short of expectations Sunday against woefully outmatched Ireland. Abby Wambach, the sport’s greatest scorer, recorded a pair of goals just before halftime and the Americans went on to a 3-0 victory before a sellout crowd of 18,000 at Avaya Stadium, home to the MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes.
The Americans did not perform up to the heightened standards of the world’s No. 2 ranked team. Absurd advantages in shots (29-0) and corner kicks (19-0) belied shortcomings in combination work and rhythm.
World Cup preparations will continue next Sunday against Mexico at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., and conclude May 30 against South Korea at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. The Group D opener for the second-ranked Americans is June 8 against Australia in Winnipeg.
Ireland, which did not qualify for the World Cup, wasn’t a test for the United States, but the match was a test for Wambach, who will turn 35 less than a week before the tournament begins. She had opted to train on her own instead of playing in the National Women’s Soccer League this spring. Although that decision cost her only three league games, it took her from a daily team environment for several weeks and prevented her from playing a full competitive match.
Wambach started only three of the previous seven U.S. matches this year and went the full 90 minutes once: against England on Feb. 13.
Nonetheless, with Alex Morgan nursing a bruised knee, Coach Jill Ellis partnered Wambach with Amy Rodriguez on the frontline Sunday. Even out of form, her size and experience should have caused damage right away against Ireland, which had lost the previous 10 meetings with the United States by a 37-1 margin and was missing several starters because of club commitments.
Wambach’s three early headers were not on target, a sign of rustiness.
The Americans rarely allowed the ball to leave Ireland’s end in the first half but labored to dissect the compact resistance. They did not move the ball quickly enough and failed to sustain menace and rhythm.
Despite the issues, Wambach provided a 2-0 lead before intermission.
In the 42nd minute, while attempting to clear a corner kick, an Irish player smashed the ball off the face of teammate Meabh De Burca stationed on the goal line. While play continued, goalkeeper Niamh Reid-Burke inexplicably tended to De Burca. Christen Press collected the deflection and crossed to Wambach for a nine-yard finish.
Three minutes later, Carli Lloyd cut the ball back on the end line and crossed to the far side for Wambach’s short header into the near corner for her 180th international goal.
Wambach’s hunger never waned. In typical fearless manner, she suffered a bloody nose in the second half while challenging Reid-Burke for a high ball in the penalty area.
Defender Julie Johnston scored the third goal with a leaping near-post stab of Lauren Holiday’s corner kick in the 54th minute.
Aside from Johnston’s goal, the U.S. defense and goalkeeper Hope Solo were barely noticed.
Ali Krieger, the veteran defender from Prince William County and the Washington Spirit, returned from a month-long concussion absence and started at right back before yielding to Lori Chalupny at halftime.
Midfielder Morgan Brian, who won the past two Hermann Trophy awards at the University of Virginia, entered at the start of the second half. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe was honored for her 100th international appearance in the previous match. Defender Lori Chalupny reached 100 Sunday.
Aside from Alex Morgan, midfielder Tobin Heath also sat out with a hamstring ailment. The U.S. Soccer Federation said neither injury is serious and, although they are likely to miss next weekend’s friendly, both players are expected to be ready for the World Cup.
In a nice pregame touch, the mothers of the U.S. players joined their daughters on the field:
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) May 10, 2015
Hope Solo; Ali Krieger (Lori Chalupny 46th), Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, Meghan Klingenberg (O’Hara 61st); Christen Press, Carli Lloyd (Shannon Boxx 78th), Lauren Holiday (Heather O’Reilly 61st), Megan Rapinoe (Morgan Brian 46th); Amy Rodriguez (Sydney Leroux 46th), Abby Wambach.
Did not play: GK Ashlyn Harris, GK Alyssa Naehler, D Whitney Engen, D Christie Rampone, MF Tobin Heath, F Alex Morgan.
USA: Wambach (Press), 42nd minute.
USA: Wambach (Lloyd), 45th.
USA: Johnston (Holiday), 54th.
May 17: Mexico at StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., 9 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1)
May 30: South Korea at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Wambach’s first goal:
Wambach’s second goal: