Nine days after the US Men’s National Team fell 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago to miss out on next year’s men’s World Cup, US Soccer fans turned their attention to the Women’s National Team on Thursday as the three-time World Cup champions faced Korea Republic in the first of two October friendlies. After 90 minutes of physical play on the turf field at the New Orleans Superdome, the Americans came away with a 3-1 victory to give US fans something to cheer about.
National team veterans Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz each found the back of the net for the USWNT, helping to secure the team’s fifth straight win.
Plenty of early chances
Jill Ellis' team found no shortage of opportunities early in the match, as shots by Andi Sullivan -- who made her first start since last November after suffering an ACL tear -- and Ertz each had shots in the first 10 minutes of the contest. Shots by Kelley O’Hara and Samantha Mewis were on goal later, but saves by Korea’s Kang Gaee kept the home team off the scoreboard for the time being.
The USWNT would find the back of the net soon enough, however, as a corner kick from Rapinoe found an unmarked Ertz at the near post, where the recently-converted midfielder dove to redirect the ball between Kang’s legs and into the goal. It was Ertz’s 12th international goal -- her fourth this year -- and gave the home team a 1-0 advantage in the 24th minute.
The U.S. would double the lead in the 40th minute, when O’Hara made her way into the attacking third from the right back position, falling out of bounds as she played the ball back to Morgan in the six-yard box. A deft touch by the forward allowed her to find space around the Korean defender and take a left-footed shot into the top of the goal, giving Morgan her fourth straight international game with a goal and the 78th of her career.
A momentum shift?
The dying moments of the first half saw some rough moments for the USWNT, starting in the 44th minute when Mallory Pugh went down with a hamstring injury. The 19-year-old was helped off the field and gave way to substitute Lynn Williams as referee Christina Unkel added three minutes of stoppage time.
Three minutes turned into four, however, and in the extra time, Han Chaerin managed to turn defender Abby Dahlkemper twice before blasting a shot over Alyssa Naeher to put Korea on the board. The USWNT headed to the locker room at the half with a 2-1 lead, but the visitors’ late goal left a feeling of shifted momentum after the first 45-plus minutes.
Finish what you started
The U.S. made one change at the half, bringing in recent NWSL champion Lindsey Horan for Sullivan, a planned move as the Stanford player continues to make the comeback from injury.
Morgan continued to be involved in the attack for the U.S. early in the half, finding a wide open Williams on the right side, who then played it off to Rapinoe in the box. However, before the Seattle Reign player could make a play on the ball, she was fouled by Kim Hyeri, resulting in a penalty kick. Rapinoe lined up to take the kick immediately but was forced to wait as the injured Kim Hyeyoung was subbed off for Jang Chang. The USWNT veteran was unfazed, though, burying the spot kick right down the middle as Kang dove to her left. Rapinoe’s 34th international goal gave the Americans a 3-1 lead, which would hold until the end of the match.
South Korea had its chances to close the gap in the second half, most notably in the 59th minute as a strike from distance off the foot of Chelsea midfielder Ji Soyun was inches away from hitting paydirt, striking the woodwork and going out for a goal kick. Ji’s Chelsea teammate Crystal Dunn was one of several U.S. players with shots on goal in the second half, but Kang did well to keep the home team from adding to its two-goal lead down the stretch.
The Koreans had one last good chance in the 79th minute on a free kick, but Naeher was up to the task, punching the ball out and away from danger. The visitors kept up the pace in the final moments but ultimately were unable to threaten the USWNT lead, and with the final whistle, the Americans celebrated their fifth straight win.
The teams will finish up the friendly double-header on Sunday in Cary, North Carolina. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. The match will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.