Lloyd, Pugh help USWNT open 2016 with dominant win

SAN DIEGO 

The United States women’s national team kicked off 2016 in glorious fashiong, defeating the Republic of Ireland 5-0 at Qualcomm Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The international friendly was billed as a casting call for all the promising youngsters coming down the USWNT pipeline. Instead, Saturday’s win was all about USA stalwarts Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan.

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The United States finally finished celebrating their Women’s World Cup Victory Tour and said goodbye to familiar faces like Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday, Lori Chalupny and Shannon Boxx. The match up against the Republic of Ireland was a clean start for the next stage for the defending World Cup champs. 

"It was definitely a good test," USA captain Lloyd said after the win. "I think the fact that they did pack in it a little bit at times it was hard to kind of play through the central channels but overall I think it was a great test. It was a great test for some of the younger players to instill some confidence in them and I think we’re definitely ready for Olympics qualifying."

From the get-go, the United States dominated the game, keeping the ball mostly in Ireland’s half. It took six minutes for Lloyd to sink USA’s first goal, and her 80th career goal for the USA. Lloyd was available to find open space at the top of the six yard box and tapped in an alert pass from Morgan.  

15 minutes later, Lloyd notched her second, heading in a deflection from Ireland keeper Emma Byrne’s block of a Morgan header. Lloyd would later pounce on a bad back pass from Ireland and rolled the ball into an open net for her third, taking her total to 82.

Morgan, who didn’t want to miss out on any of the goal-scoring action, added to USA’s tally in the 45th minute after Lloyd’s header bounced off the post. The former University of California-Berkeley standout made her national team debut in Oct. 2010 against China and became the 34th U.S. female player to reach the 100 cap milestone on Saturday.  

Ireland struggled to maintain any sort of defensive shape and had very little possession throughout the game. There was one glimmer of a chance when Whitney Engen scuffed a pass from Tobin Heath which left an Ireland striker open on goal in the opening minutes. Engen recovered and Ireland’s chance was gone as quickly as it materialized. It was the only real attacking opportunity for the Girls in Green in the first half.

The second half was much of the same, although Ireland managed to keep Hope Solo busy with two quick saves in the 79th minute; the first was tipped over the bar, the second a point-blank header from a corner kick. Perhaps giving some youngsters a chance to gain valuable experience, USA manager Jill Ellis decided to give Mallory Pugh her senior debut. The 17-year-old became one of the youngest players in USWNT history to play and score in her first national team appearance.  

Pugh added to USA’s total, scoring her side’s fifth goal in the 83rd minute with a header off a cool Christen Press cross. The finish capped off an impressive debut for the youngster who made headlines this week after deciding to attend UCLA  rather than turn pro to join NWSL’s Portland Thorns.  

With this friendly matchup, the USWNT is aggressively trying to inject new talent to the squad in efforts to  for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Ellis added youth to the roster near the end of the Victory Tour and will hope to lean on young talent when it’s time to announce the 18-woman roster which will lead USA in Brazil later this upcoming summer.  

As expected, Ellis gave field time to some newer faces. Crystal Dunn, Emly Sonnett, Samantha Mewis and Lindsey Horan all started the match. By the 59h minute, all the field players on the bench had been subbed in, including newcomers Jaelene Hinkle, Stephanie McCaffrey and Pugh.

"It’s just a huge honor to be here right now having all of this happen to me," Pugh told reporters after the match. "And without the support and the help from the veterans and even the young ‘uns that we call them, I don’t think that I could be here."

The United States will open CONCACAF Olympic qualifying against Costa Rica on Feb. 10.