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A Julie Ertz brace leads the charge as the USWNT take down New Zealand 3-1

The US Women’s National Team took on the Football Ferns of New Zealand on Friday night, looking for a more cohesive performance than the one they displayed at the mid-summer Tournament of Nations. They certainly found some answers in a comfortable 3-1 victory, courtesy of a brace from Julie Ertz and a late goal from Alex Morgan. The match also featured the celebration of the 100th cap of defender Kelley O’Hara, and provided newly FIFA-approved USA international Sofia Huerta with her first appearance for the senior USWNT squad.

The USA’s starting lineup for the game seemed to favor strong NWSL form, with Megan Rapinoe and Morgan getting starts, as well as Ertz continuing her growing role as a central midfielder, reflecting a position change she has solidified with the Chicago Red Stars this club season. And while Taylor Smith earned another international start at the right back position, Huerta suited up as a sub after being made available to the squad just yesterday.

The match started smoothly for the hosts, with the USA holding much of the possession to start the first half. They were knocking on the door in the early minutes, and they finally broke through to start the scoring in the 16th minute, when a Megan Rapinoe corner kick wasn’t properly cleared from the New Zealand defensive end, and honorary captain O’Hara sent a well-weighted ball that was headed down by Lindsey Horan to the waiting Ertz, who struck the shot home to put the USA up 1-0.

The USWNT didn’t waste much time doubling their lead after their initial strike, putting together long spells of possession, and utilizing a combination play of 15 consecutive passes to spring Mal Pugh on the end line of the right side of the field. Pugh then got a strong cross over to Rapinoe, who’s header ricochet’d hard off the left post. Fortunately for the Americans, that rebound again found a well-placed Ertz, who sent a rocket into the back of the net to earn herself a brace and putting the USA up 2-0 in the 24th minute.

After the USA was comfortably in the lead, they relaxed a bit moving forward. While New Zealand struggled to put together a dangerous sense of a counter-attack, the USA let some chances go (particularly an opportunity for Ertz to get a full hat-trick in the 42nd minute) and the half would end 2-0.

The second half started a little more slowly for the USA, especially due to Smith getting roughed up by a difficult challenge from Annalie Longo in the 46th minute. She was ultimately unable to continue, which called for the debut of Sofia Huerta in a USWNT jersey. While Huerta has been playing primarily in the midfield for the Chicago Red Stars this NWSL season, USA head coach Jill Ellis has been considering her as a right back on the international stage. As she has featured for the Mexico Women’s National Team in the past, this makes her the first player to play both for and against the USWNT.

A trio of 60th minute substitutes seemed to alter the cohesion of the first half for the USA, and New Zealand began to work their way into the match, putting more numbers forward and finding some chances in front of the host’s goal. This lead to the visitors pulling a goal back in the 75th minute, when a cross from New Zealand captain Ali Riley bent into the box, beating keeper Alyssa Naeher coming off her line and reaching Hannah Wilkinson who put the ball into the back of the net. O’Hara got shaken up on the play, and had to end her big night a little bit early, coming out in the 77th minute.

The USA didn’t waste time putting a final punctuation on the match, when in the 79th minute Huerta curved a well-weighted ball in front of the New Zealand goal, finding Morgan, who’s perfect first touch allowed her to shoot far post and give the game its final scoreline, 3-1 in favor of the USA.

This match will certainly encourage the USA, especially as it looks to expand its player pool. However, they might take some pause in the lapse in play that allowed the New Zealand goal, as it looked reminiscent of similar lapses that have given other opposition chances to put games out of the USWNT’s reach. They’ll have an opportunity to continue to tinker when they take New Zealand on again on September 19th in Cincinnati, OH.

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