Opinion: U.S. soccer team bench a lot like White Walkers, and that should scare World Cup foes – USA TODAY

Opinion: U.S. soccer team bench a lot like White Walkers, and that should scare World Cup foes - USA TODAY

U.S. women ready for World Cup after 3-0 win in final tuneup

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.

If the idea was to build confidence ahead of defending the world title they won in Canada four years ago, then the three-match send-off series that culminated with this victory over El Tri at Red Bull Arena — the Americans trounced New Zealand and South Africa earlier this month and didnt surrender a goal in those games, either — couldnt have gone much better.

USWNT 3, Mexico 0: Takeaways from the American womens World Cup send-off match

United States forward Mallory Pugh (2) scoring a goal as Mexicos Cecilia Santiago (1), Daniela Espinosa (7), Joana Robles (8) and Yamile Franco (17) tried to stop her. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Only when Mexico began to wilt did the floodgates open; Pugh and Press scored inside the final quarter-hour, with Presss well-taken strike inside the far post arriving with just two minutes of the 90 to play. As good as the 3-0 result looks, though, theres no getting around the fact that this team can — and will need to — be much better.

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.

Perhaps heavy legs help explain the sluggishness. After all, the USWNTs opener against Thailand is still more than two weeks away. But things didnt get much better early in the second half, when Ellis replaced five field players, moved Heath to left back, and Julie Ertz from defensive midfield to her former spot in central defense.

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.

While Saturdays contest wasnt the rout many were expecting, the truth is it doesnt really matter. Unlike the She Believes Cup earlier this year, when the U.S. took on top-10 opponents such as Australia, Brazil and Japan, none of these three send-off games came against top-end foes.

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At this stage of their preparations, one might expect to see a more well-oiled machine humming away. Not only was the final pass off all afternoon, the U.S., for all their surging runs forward, didnt dominate the ball; Mexico enjoyed almost half of the possession for most of the match.

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.

HARRISON, N.J. — The United States womens national team rode goals by Tobin Heath and substitutes Mallory Pugh and Christen Press to beat Mexico 3-0 on Sunday in its final game before heading to the 2019 FIFA Womens World Cup, which kicks off next month in France.

Unites States forward Megan Rapinoe (15) and forward Alex Morgan (13) hugging teammate forward Tobin Heath, center, after she scored a goal against Mexico. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

After months of talk and tuneups, not to mention a packed schedule of media appearances in New York over the last week, the Americans are eager to get overseas and on with the business of defending their crown on the biggest stage their sport has to offer.

“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.”

There were several big takeaways from this, coach Jill Ellis said afterward. Being healthy, getting valuable minutes for a lot of different players, keeping a clean sheet, scoring some goals…I think we got a lot of things accomplished today.

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.

Mexico goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago diving at a shot by U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe. The shot went wide of the goal. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Weve been talking about how excited we are to get out of here, no offense to anyone, captain Alex Morgan said. We are ready to kind of have that tight-knit community within our team and just continue to build that chemistry.

“It’s always good to have (and) try players who can adapt and adjust and play any position needed,” she added.

Ellis and her charges still have plenty of time to work on their timing and execution before opening their group slate on June 11, with an eye on hitting their stride when the knockout stage begins a couple of weeks after that.

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.

Tobin Heath shooting a scoring shot against Mexico during the first half of the match. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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.

Considering that the worlds No. 1 team was playing in its send-off game in front of a raucous, near-sell-out crowd just outside of New York City, the Americans sharpness against Mexico left a lot to be desired.

“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.”

I think the players would say it as well: We definitely need to be sharper with the final pass, Ellis said. We know weve got to make it count in those moments.

A spectator reacting during the send-off celebration for the United States. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

That said more about the USWNTs lack of cutting edge more than anything else, however. Had the hosts been more clinical, the score couldve easily been 5-0.

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.

We absolutely can play better than we did today, Press said. But its a far better place than we were four years ago, and four years ago we won.

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.

Press was quick to point out that in their last World Cup warmup in 2015 in this very stadium, South Korea held the U.S. to a scoreless draw.

“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.”

Our depth is pretty incredible, Morgan said. We could have two starting elevens at this World Cup.

Members of the United States womens national team gathering for fans during the send-off ceremony after the match. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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.

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