In the first of three friendlies in a World Cup send-off series, the U.S. women's national team beat the Republic of Ireland 3-0 in front of a sellout 18,000 fans (and all of their moms) at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif.
Despite missing Alex Morgan (sitting out these friendlies due to a bone bruise on her left knee), the USWNT proved again that they're adaptable in their attack. Abby Wambach, earning her 240th cap, started up top with an in-form Amy Rodriguez, and Wambach bagged a pair of goals at the end of the first half.
The U.S. took control of the game from the first whistle, with Megan Rapinoe forcing Ireland backup goalkeeper Niamh Reid-Burke to make a save in just the second minute. Ireland were missing five starters who couldn't get out of overseas club commitments, and the team struggled to do much more than defend in the first half. The U.S. earned corner after corner, totaling almost 20 by the end of the game, although they failed to take advantage of those set piece opportunities until Wambach's 42nd minute goal.
Particularly impressive in the first half were Rodriguez and Christen Press, who looked dangerous for the U.S., along with Wambach, who grabbed several headers that could have been goals. Wambach finally broke the deadlock in the 42nd minute after a corner kick by Rapinoe. After Ireland defender Meabh Du Burca prevented an own goal by taking a hard shot to the face, Press got the ball to Wambach, who only had to slide it in easily while the 'keeper was distracted.
Wambach got her brace just three minutes later, doing well to connect with a Carli Lloyd cross that was slightly behind her. It was a sharp end to a decent but at times frustrating first half for the U.S., who had some difficulties breaking through Ireland's compact approach.
The U.S. made three changes to start the second half, bringing on Lori Chalupny (also earning her 100th cap) for Ali Krieger, Morgan Brian for Rapinoe, and Sydney Leroux for Rodriguez. Press continued to trouble the Ireland defense in the second 45 minutes, bursting forward in the 52nd, rounding Reid-Burke, and forcing defender Megan Campbell to make a save off the line.
Two minutes later, Julie Johnston made it 3-0 for the U.S.—and scored her third goal in as many games. Johnston, who will be making her first World Cup appearance in Canada, came flying out of nowhere to direct a corner kick into the goal with her best ninja impression.
In the end, three goals were all she wrote for the U.S., a solid result for a shorthanded Ireland side but a somewhat disappointing result for a U.S. team about to face tougher challenges in this summer's tournament. Some chemistry was missing, particularly in the midfield, and the U.S. needed to do more with their width, but goals from Wambach, whose confidence will be key, and Johnston, who's peaking at just the right moment, are encouraging.
The U.S. next will face Mexico and the Korea Republic on May 17 and May 30 respectively.
U.S. goals: Wambach (42', 45'), Johnston (54')
U.S. starting XI: Hope Solo; Ali Krieger (Lori Chalupny, 45'), Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg (Kelley O'Hara 61'); Christen Press, Lauren Holiday (Heather O'Reilly 61'), Carli Lloyd (Shannon Boxx, 77'), Megan Rapinoe (Morgan Brian, 45'); Amy Rodriguez (Sydney Leroux, 45'), Abby Wambach
Ireland starting XI: Niamh Reid-Burke; Megan Campbell, Karen Duggan, Meabh Du Burca, Aine O'Gorman; Ruesha Littlejohn, Denise O'Sullivan, Jessica Gleeson (Ciara Grant, 45'); Stephanie Roche (Nicola Sinnott, 91'), Julie Ann Russell (Ciara Rossiter, 84'), Fiona O'Sullivan (Katie McCabe, 73')