The best story of Sunday’s clash between the U.S. Women and Ireland happened hours before the game.
Fox Sports surprised the players by flying in the mothers of the 23 U.S. players to escort them out onto the field during the pre-game ceremony. U.S. veteran attacker Megan Rapinoe talked after the game about the unexpected moment:
“It was just so special. We spend so much time away from out family, which gets hard. We’re used to it but it still sucks. To have everyone’s mom here, and just to have that little piece of home totally surprise like that was really amazing.”
It was a moment of warmth on Mother’s Day before a cold beat down of an underpowered Irish team. The United States did not allow a single shot on goal, rarely having to defend in their own half en route to a 3-0 thrashing in the first of three tune-up matches before the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
A sell-out crowd of 18,000 rocked Avaya Stadium on a pristine San Jose afternoon.
The statistics reflected the one-sided affair. The U.S. fired off a whopping 29 shots, with 11 of those finding the target. They took 19 corner kicks to Ireland’s zero. Ireland elected to sit back defensively, often keeping nine players behind the ball, leading to the U.S. holding 69 percent of the possession.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd said the U.S. hasn’t had much experience attacking that style of defending:
“It’s kind of the first time in a while we’ve kind of seen a bunker, they were really compact at times, had five on the back line. So the important thing for us was to get the ball wide, move the ball quick, and then wait for things to open up, but I think once we got our first goal it was easier to get the second goals.”
Despite the positive result, head coach Jill Ellis said the team will need to be far more clinical in front of goal against World Cup quality sides:
“The expectation is for more, and I think the players expect that from themselves too. We got a lot of set-pieces, and we scored some set-piece goals which I was pleased with. But I think we’ve got to increase that number and certainly our finishing around the box. Again I thought we took some quality chances, we just gotta fine tune that and put those away.”
Wambach put the game to bed early with a first half brace after failing to connect on three chances in front of goal early in the match. The goals were her 179th and 180th for the national team, extending her lead over Mia Hamm by 22, for the most goals in U.S. Women’s history. For reference, Pele, considered the greatest player to ever set foot on a pitch, scored 77 goals for Brazil during his illustrious career.
Photos by Trevor Will/SFBay
Wambach opened the scoring in bizarre fashion in the 43rd minute, when a point blank deflection came off the face of Irish defender Meabh De Burca and fell to the feet of Christen Press. Press rolled a centering pass to Wambach at the top of the six-yard box for an easy finish. The 34-year-old doubled two minutes later, this time via Carli Lloyd, to give the U.S. a 2-0 advantage at the break.
The U.S. extended their lead 10 minutes after the restart, when Santa Clara university alum Julie Johnston scored on an easy near post tap in from a Lauren Holiday corner, her third goal in three consecutive games. Another Bay Area alum earned the corner that lead to the goal, when former Stanford star Press had her shot in front of goal nicked over the bar.
Johnston was thrilled at the opportunity to score in front of so many who supported her in college:
“It’s fantastic to even be back in the San Jose area where I went to college. It’s kind of a dream come true and to be able to score and have a great start to the send off games is truly special for sure.”
On the goal:
“I ran through the near post, it was a driven ball, (Lauren Holiday) played a perfect ball. I couldn’t get my head to it, so I tried to get my toe, and I think my pinkie touched it just enough to get it in.”
Johnston, a center-back, was also part of a back line that earned the fifth consecutive clean sheet for the U.S. The women haven’t conceded since giving up a goal to Norway on March 4th.
Press dominated down the right wing all afternoon, with the striker thriving in her new midfield role, a position she said she has embraced since making the switch:
“I actually really enjoy playing in the midfield, it’s different experience. When I go into games as a forward, my job is very clear and I just have to execute. But as a midfielder you get to sort of enjoy the game and feel the game and dictate the play and it’s really fun.”
The performance continues a stellar 2015 for Press, who was recently named the NWSL Player of the Month for April after recording four goals in two games for her club side, Chicago Red Stars.
Kelly O’Hara rounded out the crew of local college stars to make an appearance, coming on as a second half substitution. Both Press and O’Hara earned All-American honors at Stanford, and were each awarded the Hermann Trophy, given to the top female soccer player in the country every year, during their tenure.
A head-to-head collision with Irish goalkeeper Niamh Reid-Burke left Wambach with a bloody nose midway through the second half, but she stayed on the pitch for the remainder of the match. She responded by nearly scoring a hat trick, just missing a chance in front of goal after a perfectly placed free kick in the 71st minute.
The win extends the U.S. Women’s unbeaten streak in San Jose to 7-0-0 all time, with the team outscoring their opponents 30-1 in those games.
Rapinoe became the 31st American female player to reach the century mark in caps against New Zealand on April 4, and was honored before the match. A Rolex watch is normally awarded to every player who reaches the milestone, but Rapinoe elected to give the money put aside for the gift to charity.
The USA will play just two more international matches before the Women’s World Cup kicks off on June 6 and the U.S. opens group play against Australia on June 8. The two remaining games will take the USWNT to the familiar surroundings of StubHub Center in Carson, California, on May 17 to face Mexico; and finally to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, on May 30 to play the Korea Republic.
Follow @SFBay and @JakeMMontero on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Bay Area soccer.