With everything else going on with the U.S. women’s national team and women’s professional soccer in general, it was all the U.S. women could do to notch a 3-1 win over ever-dangerous Brazil.
U.S. speedster striker Alex Morgan got the U.S. an early goal lead — which the U.S. sorely needed to keep ahead of an inspired Marta and her Brazilian teammates. Brazil struck back at the end of the first half with a powerful blast into the corner by Cristiane. Just minutes later, versatile midfielder Crystal Dunn added a rebound goal to allow the U.S. to retake a 2-1 lead in the 48th minute
Newcomer Stephanie McCaffrey added the final U.S. goal in the 94th minute on a beautiful cross from veteran midfielder Megan Rapinoe. She became the 18th player to score in her U.S. national team debut.
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But with Orlando City FC set to announce on Monday that Morgan will be the centerpiece of Orlando Pride’s expansion team in the NWSL, it was the enthusiastic crowd at the Citrus Bowl that were the real winners.
A crowd of 32,869 was the largest in Florida to ever attend a women’s soccer match in Florida. Indeed, it was women’s soccer that had a field day here in central Florida — a day highlighted by the retirements of two stellar U.S. stars and the liberal substitutions made by U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who brought 31 players to this camp.
Ellis said it was a lot to manage given the players who are retiring and newcomers, but said she was pleased with the performance. "To be up 2-1 before Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe steps on the field is pretty good indication of the talent and depth. Granted we got a bit disorganized at times but Brazil will do that."
Defender Lori Chalupny and midfielder Lauren Holiday both started for their U.S. national team finales, with Chalupny getting subbed out in the 20th minute and Holiday lasting until the 56th minute. While Chalupny is a quality player whose leadership will be missed, it was truly an emotional moment when Holiday went off. The stellar midfielder has played a pivotal role for the U.S. women during her storied career, sacrificing some of her natural scoring prowess to anchor a U.S. defense at the holding mid spot, especially after Carli Lloyd was pushed so successfully to an attacking midfield position.
"I will remember how competitive we are. How much fun we’ve had and every funny thing that’s ever happened. This is bittersweet. There’s been a rush of emotions but it’s good to go out on a win," said Holiday after the game.
Holiday’s tearful goodbye truly leaves the U.S. with a tall order of remaking the midfield — a project that could prove to be one of the thorniest for Ellis to tackle in time for the Olympic qualifying tournament in February.
The upheavals in the lineups were plentiful, with Ellis giving starts to new call-ups Emily Sonnett on defense and Lindsey Horan at forward. Forward Stephanie McCaffrey was also given her first cap with a second-half start and goal in the final minutes of stoppage time.
"When Pinoe’s on the wing it’s an easy job. You just have to get to the right spot. She’ll put it in the right spot and the right place for your body. It was a great cross," McCaffrey said
All of this shuffling made it that much more difficult for the U.S. to find a rhythm against Brazil, which is charged up ahead of the 2016 Olympics that will take place in their home country. The U.S. women’s national team wanted matches against a top-quality opponent, and Brazil were everything the U.S. could have asked for.
Solo said there’s no doubt all the changes have made this back-to-back series in the 10-game Victory Tour series confusing.
"It’s weird. It’s a lot of changes. I’ve been very emotional about it. I’ve played with a lot of these players for a lot of years. It’s a transitional stage and any time you come into a transitional stage you really don’t quite know what’s going on,” Solo said, adding: "Are we playing to celebrate winning the World Cup? Are we playing to prepare for the Olympics. Are we saying goodbye to players? Are we seeing all these new players? I’m like, ‘What direction is this team going?’ It’s confusing. It’s emotional for me and for many players, but at the same time, it’s exciting. We’re going to have a whole new team for the Olympics.”
Morgan’s opening goal in the 9th minute was good news on many fronts. The striker has been pressed to convert on some of the many chances she has created for herself over the past year. She is a peerless sprinter who breaks open a lot of space and chances for the U.S., but in tallying her 51st goal Sunday, she whetted the appetites of Orlando soccer fans who will get to watch her in person, now that Morgan’s trade is set to be announced at a press conference Monday.
Morgan’s trade from the Portland Thorns FC, in a multi-player deal, must not have hurt season-ticket sales. On Sunday, Orlando City FC President Phil Rawlins announced that 1,300 season tickets were sold in the first few hours of availability. While the post-World Cup boom for women’s soccer has not exactly been full-throttle, the expansion team here and Morgan’s presence will certainly give added excitement to this coming Olympic year.
"We’ve said for a long time that we’d bring a professional women’s team and that’s what we’re going to do,” Rawlins said Sunday, adding: "I’m excited. You can see the standard of play out there today, you can see for yourself it’s extremely high, as it was this throughout the whole World Cup this summer. So we’re delighted to bring a women’s team here. I think it’s going to be a significant addition to the overall soccer scene here in central Florida.”
Indeed, it was quality inspired by Brazil’s inclusion in this Victory Tour. After U.S. victories over Costa Rica and Haiti, Brazil nearly beat the U.S. in Seattle last Wednesday, before Lloyd bashed home the equalizer in the 85th minute to salvage the 1-1- draw.
After Morgan put the U.S. up early on Sunday, Marta went to work, ready to dominate the pace and time of possession. In the 24the minute, Marta nearly led Brazil to its first goal, only the be cleared off the line by veteran U.S. center back Becky Sauerbrunn.
With the ball in the middle of the field, Marta’s spin move gave herself time to get off a pass to Tamires, who got off a cross that eluded Hope Solo and found its way to a Cristiane at the far post. It looked like a sure goal, until Becky Sauerbrunn proved again to be a defender with unwavering ability to be exactly in the right place to make plays. This time, Sauerbrunn saved a goal, kicking the ball clear just before it crossed the goal line. The play was reminiscent of the monster goal-line save that Meghan Klingenberg made against Sweden to save the U.S.