Morgan scores 50th international goal to give USWNT win vs. England

In the wake of a painful defeat in France on Sunday, the U.S. women’s national team desperately needed a response. Alex Morgan eventually stepped forward to provide it.

Morgan scored her 50th international goal to give the Americans a 1-0 victory over England on Friday. The returning forward deftly nodded home Lauren Holiday’s inviting cross from the right after 25 minutes to separate the sides in Milton Keynes.

The final result offered the Americans a welcome riposte in the wake of their setback on Sunday without providing a truly convincing display of their World Cup credentials. They dominated the run of play for much of the afternoon against an England side devoid of ambition and ideas for long stretches, but their inability to produce a second goal despite ample possession nearly undid them in the second half.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis restored captain Abby Wambach to the starting lineup and retained the 4-4-2 shape as a response to the defeat in Lorient on Sunday, but England manager Mark Sampson exerted more influence on the early stages by setting out his side with a cautious approach in response to the 3-0 loss to Germany in November.

Sampson left Eniola Aluko, Lianne Sanderson and Fara Williams on the bench and told his players to defend deeply in their 4-4-2 setup. Those determined banks of four forced the Americans to carry the burden of play and try to unlock the English with their superiority in possession.

Instead of relying on combination play to crack open those lines, the Americans resorted to diagonals and longballs toward Morgan and Wambach. The dearth of movement off the service and the lack variety in the approach play prompted frustration in the early stages, but the Americans eventually started to pick up the tempo and use the wide areas more effectively in a bid to break down the opposition.

Holiday drifted out to the wide areas more reliably and placed herself in a good area to create the opener after 25 minutes. The influential midfielder floated out to receive a slide-rule pass from Morgan Brian and then subsequently whipped a ball toward the top of the goal area. Morgan rose well and tucked her header inside the far post to notch her 50th international goal.

The first American goal in 217 minutes inspired an improvement across the board on the way to halftime. England offered little threat on the counter given its reticence to commit numbers into the attacking half, but the Americans presented more questions with better tempo on the ball and more incisiveness in the wide areas.

England captain Steph Houghton nearly turned a Meghan Klingenberg cross into her own net on the stroke of halftime, but the effort whistled just wide of the far post. The reprieve allowed England to regroup at the break and send more numbers forward at the start of the second half.

The renewed commitment to attacking nearly produced an equalizer against the run of play early in the second half. Fran Kirby corralled a pass through the flat U.S. midfield line and then uncorked an effort from distance. Ashlyn Harris rousted from her quiet first half to touch the effort onto the cross bar. Taylor reacted well and tucked into the empty net to spark wild celebrations, but the assistant referee incorrectly ruled out the goal for offside to the disgust of the English.

HEAR US OUT

Their justified displeasure did not spark a change in the calculus with the Americans on top for much of the second half. The increased cadence posed more of a threat, but gilt-edged chances were elusive. Morgan forced Karen Bardsley to punch her low cross away, while several shots were charged down en route to goal.

Sampson eventually threw Aluko, Sanderson and Williams into the fray in the final 10 minutes in a bid to snatch a late equalizer. Those efforts petered out much like the game itself. This performance did not reach the desired heights for the visitors, but the end product offered a tempered response to the defeat and provide the Americans with a positive result to take forward to the Algarve Cup next month.