Neil W. Blackmon
Boca Raton, FL– On a sun-splashed South Florida Saturday afternoon on a pristine pitch, the USWNT dismantled a Russia team that bunkered from the beginning 7-0, remaining unbeaten under Tom Sermanni and in their last 41 matches. The only disappointment of the day was that only 8,857 people saw it, despite gorgeous weather and a week where soccer dominated South Florida headlines. That’s a sharp contrast to the 20,000 plus who saw the USWNT defeat Brazil in Orlando in November, and certainly not a great endorsement of Don Garber and David Beckham’s enthusiasm about soccer in South Florida we saw on display earlier this week.
Nonetheless, it was dominant display by an American team with mostly a full compliment of players, save Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath, who remain shelved with injuries, and the margin of victory was one of the largest ever by the US Women against UEFA competition, just one short of the 8-0 record.
For the first half hour, Russia’s strategy to play nine or ten women behind the ball seemed to be frustrating the Americans, who were having trouble playing quickly enough to make consistently chasing the game without possession difficult on the Russian women. Eventually, however, the Americans found creases in the Russian defense– largely created in the early stages by winger Heather O’Reilly–who marauded the right flank and delivered four early threatening crosses in the first half hour, only to see each one cleared away by scrambling Russian defenders.
O’Reilly proved such a menace early on that Russia’s Marina Pushkareva, the left back tasked with containing her, was subbed off after half an hour, citing a “leg” injury. A half-hour, as it turned out, was precisely how long O’Reily and the Americans would need for a breakthrough. After ratcheting up the tempo and switching the point of attack, largely through midfielder Carli Lloyd, the US had stretched out Russia enough to have space on another O’Reilly run– and this time, rather than cross, an incutting O’Reilly laid off to a late-running Lloyd, who turned a defender on the edge of the box and roofed a shot, Landon vs. Slovenia style past Russian keeper Elvira Todua. The goal gave the Yanks a 1-0 lead, and as Tom Sermanni put it after the match, it was “certain to always be a long way back for Russia from there, the way they were sitting back.”
Three minutes later, O’Reilly got the goal her first half performance deserved after Russia botched a long clearance, leaving O’Reilly to poach a one-touch strike off her left foot to make it 2-0.
The Americans stretched the lead to 3-0, again through Carli Lloyd, in the 37th minute. This time, Lloyd was the recipient of a nifty chip pass from Stephanie Cox on the left flank. Lloyd took a quick touch and then unleashed a blast from 20 yards that easily beat Todua. The goal gave Lloyd 48 in her US career, moving her closer to eighth on the USWNT all-time scoring list (Carin Gabarra, 53). Lloyd nearly made it a first half hat trick in stoppage time when she made a patented late run into the area to support Press, O’Reilly, Mewis and Leroux, but her right footed, sliding shot clipped the top of the woodwork and caromed harmlessly away. The tough-luck bounce ensured the U.S. would carry the 3-0 lead into the break, but the Americans were hardly finished.
Lloyd played the role of orchestrator on the fourth US goal, setting up Christen Press to make it 4-0 in the 51st minute, and giving Press her first goal in 2014. Press was pleased with her sixty minute shift, and how she was able to help stretch out the Russian defense after 30 minutes of constant interchange between herself and her forward partner, Sydney Leroux, opening space for the US to score and eventually open the floodgates. That she was rewarded with a goal for that unheralded first half work was fitting.
That her partner up top, Sydney Leroux, was also rewarded, scoring the Americans fifth goal only three minutes after Press fired home the US’ fourth, was even more appropriate. Press tallied again to make it 6-0 in the 59th minute, a clean up poacher’s goal after Todua mishandled Ali Krieger’s speculative shot from a tough angle, and her work, as well as Leroux’s, were finished thereafter, as Tom Sermanni made his first changes at the hour mark, bringing on Amy Rodriguez and crowd-favorite, Abby Wambach.
It only took Wambach seven minutes from setting foot on the field to get her name on the scoresheet for the 164th time in an American shirt. After Erika Tymrak was fouled, the Russians spent a great deal of time protesting the call. Not much attention was paid to the US and with a quick restart, Amy Rodriguez received the ball and her deft lay-off found Wambach all alone in the area with more than half a net to work, who she scored easily to make it 7-0.
From there, the US continued to threaten, mostly through a hard-working Rodriguez or newcomer and former University of Florida All-American Erika Tymrak, but an eighth goal was not in the offing. The story of the final twenty minutes, and perhaps setting up a bit of drama as the Russia friendly series moves to Atlanta next week, was how chippy the Russians played.
Certainly no team wants to be behind by seven goals, but the Russians saw Valentina Orlova sent off for a horrifying last-defender tackle on Amy Rodriguez, moments after the Americans made it 7-0 through Wambach, and were quite fortunate not to have Ekaterina Dmintrenko sent off moments later for another brutal tackle. It was the type of cynical play you don’t want to see ever, but especially not in a friendly and certainly not in a friendly where there’s a “take two” date just a handful of days later. That’s something to keep an eye on as the Americans head to Atlanta and the Georgia Dome this week.
Quotes and more to come.
Neil W. Blackmon is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.