The US women’s soccer team is undefeated on Leap Day.
Alex Morgan scored two goals, Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd and Sydney Leroux had one apiece, and the United States opened defense of its Algarve Cup title with a 5-0 win over Denmark on Wednesday night at Lagos, Portugal.
”Pretty impressive,” Lloyd said. ”We went through a rough spell a few years ago as far as getting the ball into the back of the net and now we’ve got players coming off the bench and new players in the lineup who score goals.”
The only other time the US women played on Feb. 29 was in 2004, when Wambach scored in a 2-0 win against Mexico.
”It wasn’t easy, I really want to emphasize that,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said.
Morgan, a 22-year-old who was the youngest player on last year’s American World Cup roster, made her third straight start after 15 consecutive appearances in which she entered as a sub.
”During the World Cup she helped the team tremendously coming off the bench. She will help this team being on the field for 90 minutes for many games, I think,” Sundhage said. ”For young players, there will be ups and downs, but her speed and her technique is better than a year ago, and she’s a goal scorer, that’s for sure.”
Morgan said starting makes a big difference for her.
”It’s a huge difference. I am able to feel a lot more comfortable on the ball, posting up as a forward, being a little more versatile rather than running in behind every time,” she said. ”In the World Cup, getting in 20 minutes or less, my job was to get in behind and break down the defense that way, but now I am able to play both in front and behind the back line.”
Seeking their ninth Algarve Cup title and third in a row, the Americans went ahead on a goal by Morgan in the 21st minute. Morgan exchanged the ball with Heather O’Reilly, then scored on a 16-yard shot that went in off a post.
Wambach doubled the lead in the 44th with her 132nd international goal, second only to Mia Hamm’s 158, and her 16th in Algarve Cup play. Wambach headed the ball to Morgan, who ran to nearly the end line and pulled the ball back to Wambach who scored from the top of the 6-yard box.
”Alex and I are developing a great connection,” Wambach said. ”The thing about Alex is that she’s so strong with the ball. She gets faster with the ball because she loves scoring goals and putting herself and her teammates in position to score goals.”
Lloyd scored in the 76th after Lauren Cheney’s initial shot rebounded off a post and Cheney passed to her. Morgan scored her team-high eighth goal of the year in the 84th after Tobin Heath won the ball, and Leroux got a goal when she redirected Stephanie Cox’s shot in the third minute of injury time.
”I am happy to score five goals,” Sundhage said. ”The fact that we scored more goals in the second half with the changes that we created makes coaches happy.”
NOTES: The US next plays Friday against Norway, which lost its opener 2-1 to Japan. The Americans close first-round play in Group B against Japan on Monday in their first meeting since Japan won last year’s Women’s World Cup final. … In Group A openers, Germany beat Iceland 1-0 and Sweden defeated China 1-0. The group winners meet in the final on March 7.