U.S. Women's National Team Roars Past Matildas, 3-1, to Win Australia Cup; Young Americans Make Statement Down Under with Classy Win
The USA, with an average age of 19.9 years and starting six players age 20 or younger, including two 17-year-olds, took the game to Australia, out-shooting them 20-6 while racking up a 10-5 edge on corner kicks.
The Americans jumped on the Matildas from the start, drawing first blood in the 13th minute when Mandy Clemens dispossessed Aussie central defender Cheryl Salisbury and penetrated up the middle before feeding Jen Mascaro on the right flank. Mascaro's bending cross behind the defense found the streaking Kester at the far post and the U.S. forward slide to knock the ball past closing Australia goalkeeper Tracey Wheeler from 16 yards out.
"We accomplished all of our objectives," said U.S. coach Lauren Gregg. "First, we won by playing some exciting, attacking soccer. Second, these players invested in their development every minute they were on the field and took every advantage of this opportunity. Finally, these games gave us a chance to evaluate our young personalities against a much more experienced players, which gives us extremely valuable information as we go forward toward the Olympics."
The USA ended the tournament tied with 2000 Olympics participant Sweden on points at seven a piece, with both teams defeating the Czech Republic and Australia, while drawing 0-0 in their head-to-head match-up, but won the title with a far superior goal difference at plus-nine to Sweden's plus-four.
Wagner, the American's most capped player on the roster with nine appearances, was the USA's maestro in the middle and spun a virtuoso performance, pulling the strings of the U.S. attack with world class rhythm despite high pressure from the aggressive Australians. The physical match featured 34 fouls.
The USA came inches from a second goal in the 19th minute, but Michelle French's spinning free-kick struck the underside of the crossbar and Veronica Zepeda's follow up header was cleared off the line.
The Americans went up 2-0 in the 34th minute through Slaton, who twisted her defender into a knot on the left flank and drove toward the net. Her well struck shot from a sharp angle deflected off the leg of an Australia defender and past the wrong-footed Wheeler.
But for two quality saves from Wheeler, the USA would have taken a larger lead into halftime. The first came in the 36th minute when Wagner and Clemens played a wall-pass in the air inside the penalty box. Wagner brought the ball down with her chest and struck a dipping half-volley that was heading into the upper right corner before a stab by Wheeler's left hand pushed it over the bar. In the 40th minute, Clemens turned the corner on the right flank and slotted her cross to the cutting Mascaro, but her back-heel flick went right to Wheeler.
Australia made its run with 30 minutes left, putting increased pressure on the U.S. net, and then pulled a goal back in the 75th minute when Alison Foreman crashed the far post to send a beautiful bullet-header past Lakeysia Beene off a corner kick.
With the Matlidas pressing for the equalizer, it was instead the U.S. pressure that earned a clinching goal as halftime substitute Susan Bush forced Wheeler into a poor clearance after the 'keeper had journeyed to the right edge of her penalty box chasing a loose ball. Wheeler's kick fell to Heather Aldama, who quickly toe-poked the ball to Wagner. The U.S. midfielder saw Wheeler far out of her goal and sent a 30-yard driven ball into the upper right corner that the scrambling Aussie 'keeper could only wave at.
Seventeen-year old defensive midfielder Aleisha Cramer and central defender Nandi Pryce, both 5-feet-10, were forces in the air as captain Michelle French and outside backs Kelly Lindsey and Slaton proved tough to beat throughout the tournament.
"We played a very good first half and had great possession," said Slaton, who scored the first international goal of her career. "The defense was solid and very organized, which was great since we hadn't played as a unit very much. Michelle French gave us great leadership and great security in the middle."
Beene came to the edge of her box defuse an Australia rush with a long clearance in the 58th minute, paying the price with a hard collision, and went fully extended to push a Matilda blast outside the right post in the 85th minute.
"It was a great team win and defense played very well the whole tournament," added U.S. coach Jay Hoffman. "The bench played very well and several players really made individual impacts on the games. They all got tested, and that's important in judging their potential for the future."
Kester was the tournament's leading scorer with three goals while the 17-year-old Zepeda played very well in her first international start in place of Nikki Serlenga, who was forced to sit with an injured left hamstring.
"Individually, many of these players have as much talent as some of our veterans," added Gregg. "But obviously they lack experience and that makes a huge difference. Still, the sophistication they showed in this tournament was impressive to see."
The U.S. team returns to Los Angeles on Friday morning.