Entering Sunday night’s game in Los Angeles at the Stub Hub Center, the question was not if the United States woman’s national team would beat Mexico but rather how.
Following an unconvincing 3-0 win over an inferior Republic of Ireland side May 10th, the Americans’ form was in question. After Sunday’s 5-1 win against their neighbors across the border, those doubts have temporarily been laid to rest.
The U.S. displayed a creativity and sharpness in the attack that that has been lacking for sometime despite the plethora of talent at its disposal, leaving head coach Jill Ellis with nothing but a smile on her face.
“I just thought our movement off the ball and with the ball,” Ellis said postgame on what she enjoyed most in the performance. “I just though the combination play and just our tempo and speed of play, things that we’ve been talking about and just to start seeing the pieces come together and obviously getting rewarded with the goals is exciting for me.”
Forward Sydney Leroux’s impact should also give Ellis something to smile and think about in regards to who will start up front come the World Cup in June.
With teammate and best friend Alex Morgan still sidelined with a bone bruise in her left knee, it was the 25-year-old forward’s chance to stake her claim at a starting role.
Leroux responded by putting in a near perfect 90 minutes which she capped off with two goals.
Abby Wambach also grabbed a brace moving her total to 24 career goals against Mexico while also providing an assist on a goal by defender Lori Chalupny, but it was Leroux who stood among all others.
With her speed, perfectly timed runs, dribbling and hold up play, LeRoux tormented Mexico’s backline from the opening whistle and was practically unguardable for the entire game.
However, it took Leroux and the U.S. 28 minutes to score the first goal when a pass from midfielder Megan Rapinoe found Leroux in behind the Mexico defense. Leroux then touched the ball past Mexico goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago before scoring from a tight angle down the left-hand side to make it 1-0.
Mexico’s 21-year-old shot stopper had gotten the better of the Americans’ up to that point, denying a glut of clear cut scoring opportunities, before Leroux found the breakthrough. But instead of the goal rattling Mexico, it actually settled its some nerves with Mexico remaining organized while also pressing higher up the field.
Then, to the surprise of even the commentators on Fox Sports 1, Mexico leveled the game in the 39th minute.
It came off a free kick from midfielder Bianca Sierra which found forward Ariana Calderon whose header easily floated past a stranded Hope Solo who misjudged the length of the cross.
It didn’t take the U.S. long to respond though, with Wambach assisting Chalupny on a simple back pass inside the 18-yard box to go up, 2-1, just 32 seconds into the second half.
A handball from a Mexican defender in the 58th minute then saw Wambach score on the ensuing penalty kick before Leroux made it 4-1 in near identical fashion to her first goal. The assist was provided by an over the top ball from Morgan Brian who was mighty impressive as a right midfielder with her consistently dangerous crosses.
Wambach netted her second goal in the 72nd minute off a header following a skillful snake and cross from midfielder Tobin Heath to put the finishing touches on a near perfect evening.
The only thing lacking was a goal from Rapinoe, who squandered a number of clear scoring chances including having her 89th minute volley goal called back for an inadvertent handball.
For Mexico, the result was expected given the history between the two sides but the halftime score line could serve as a positive to build on as it prepares for its own World Cup matchups.
As for the U.S., the next step will be to build on the performance for the June 8 opening game against Australia.
“Well I just think it’s continuing the process,” Ellis said of what still needs to improve. “I mean, I’m not someone who’s never satisfied but I just think we just [need] to get better and better at set pieces, better in the final third. But yeah, it was a pretty special performance tonight.”