The US Women took down China 4-1 in front of of a sold out crowd at PPL Park on Sunday night in an Olympic warm up. A fantastic brace from Alex Morgan, a well taken late goal by Abby Wambach, and an unfortunate own goal by Chinese defender Zhou Gaoping were enough for the US to overcome falling behind in the first half through a Zhang Rui goal.
China started the game brightly, pressuring the US high up the pitch and not allowing the Americans to play out of the back. Carly Lloyd and Shannon Boxx seemed a step slow in the center of the pitch and Amy LePeilbet, playing at right back, seemed a bit out of sorts to start and China found some success attacking down their left flank.
It was from the left side that they would eventually find the break through in the 22nd minute. After a good movement at the top of the box, the ball was played behind the US backline for Zhang Rui, who was able to take her time and advance at Hope Solo before finishing cooly to the far post.
The Americans still could not find their rhythm even after falling behind. For every crafty dribble Rapinoe had, she had a misplaced pass as well. Wambach had difficulty carving out space in the center of the park and settled for flicking on headers. LePeilbet and O’Hara struggled to advance the ball much in the outside back positions.
The US would find their equalizer though. Heather O’Reilly found space to drive at the Chinese back line after a well worked throw in on the right side in the 34th minute. O’Reilly pushed the ball to the end line before squaring back towards Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, both following up the play. The pass was slightly behind Wambach but Morgan was perfectly placed to finish cooly into the far corner with her left foot with first time shot.
The Americans would take the lead just two minutes later. A Megan Rapinoe corner kick was met by Shannon Boxx at the far post, where her header looped back across the goal. After a bit of head tennis, Chinese defender Gaoping was only able to nod the ball into her own goal from about 2 yards.
The rest of the half would play out with no clear chances for either side.
Lauren Cheney and Amy Rodriguez entered at half time, replacing Carli Lloyd and Heather O’Reilly respectively. The two provided fresh legs and the energy in the midfield felt renewed.
But it would a straight Route 1 style goal that would provide the third goal. Christie Rampone, who was almost flawless at center back, spotted room behind the Chinese backline and lofted a ball straight down the center of the pitch for the speedy Morgan to race onto. Morgan’s first touch with her head took her into the path of a retreating Chinese defender, but the striker did well to hold her off and find room to fire a fantastic left footed finish from 18 yards.
Wambach had a penalty shout waved away in the 55th minute after it appeared she was shoved on a free kick. Rapinoe would have a drive from distance just after that, but her shot was just wide of goal. Rodriguez would be the next, after a magnificent turn in the Chinese box left two defenders for dead. But her shot was not of the same quality and was well over the bar.
The game really hit a lull in the 60th minute. The Chinese fitness began to fade on a warm night in Chester. Cheney and Boxx found their rhythm in the center of the park, with Cheney really dictating play for the US. Possession was solid, but forays forward in the final third were rare. Becky Sauerbrunn and Sydney LeRoux would make solid, if not unspectacular appearances replacing Rampone and LePeilbet.
There would be a late moment of quality from Wambach, who had almost completely disappeared in the second half. A quick throw in on the right from Morgan found Wambach in the box and behind the Chinese defense. The big striker took a touch toward goal and finished a powerful half volley into the roof of the net from about four yards.
For a 4-1 win, it would be hard to say the victory was resounding. The Chinese did well pressuring in the first and the Americans failed to breakdown the disciplined defense. Lauren Cheney won the sponsor’s Woman of the Match award and it was well deserved, even though she only entered the fray at the beginning of the second half. It would be hard to make an argument for starting Carli Lloyd over Cheney based on their performances on Sunday night.
The back four is still not sorted out. Rampone is the captain and obvious anchor in the center. With Ali Kreiger missing out on the Olympic squad with an injury, the right back position is up for grabs. Heather Mitts is the obvious replacement as the only other natural outside back on the team, but the veteran seems to be out of favor and some combination of LePeilbet, Sauerbrunn, Rachel Beuhler and striker turned defender Kelly O’Hara will fill out the rest of the defense. LePeilbet and Rampone in the center with O’Hara and Sauerbrunn on the outside seemed to be preferred back line of the PSP writers in our post game conversation.
The sold out crowd of 18, 573 was great to see on a humid evening on a holiday weekend. A capacity of just under 20,000 and a rabid local soccer base could provide a nice east coast home for more USWNT games in the future.
The women debuted the new US Soccer kit a night after the men did. For the first time in my memory, both the men and women are using the same kit making it easy to support both teams with one jersey. The hoops look good in action, though the contrast of the numbers could be increased to make them easier to read.
Earlier on Sunday, American coach Pia Sundhage announced her squad of 18 for the London Olympics. The Americans will be favorites and looking to wash away the disappointment of being runners up to Japan in last year’s World Cup. The US Olympic squad:
GOALKEEPERS (2): Nicole Barnhart, Hope Solo
DEFENDERS (6): Rachel Buehler, Amy LePeilbet, Heather Mitts, Kelley O’Hara, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn
MIDFIELDERS (6): Shannon Boxx, Lauren Cheney, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Heather O’Reilly, Megan Rapinoe
FORWARDS (4): Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Amy Rodriguez, Abby Wambach