1. Julie Ertz vs. Korea Republic (International Friendly; Oct. 19): Something everyone can agree on is that Julie Ertz was dangerous in the penalty area this year. All six of her goals came from set pieces, but her goal against Korea Republic on Oct. 19 had a little extra mustard on it as Ertz nutmegged the goalkeeper with a diving header. The goal came off a well-struck corner kick by Megan Rapinoe from the left side that flew towards the near post. The diving Ertz sent a low, skidding header through the legs of the goalkeeper. The celebration afterwards was equally as fun.
2. Megan Rapinoe vs. Brazil (Tournament of Nations; July 30): She had just assisted Christen Press on the goal that ignited the comeback, making the score 3-2 in favor of Brazil, but then Rapinoe took the reins, scoring one of the best goals of her career to tie the game, 3-3. She settled a well-placed lofted pass from Press with a perfect touch inside the penalty area and then, with Brazil goalkeeper Barbara cheating ever so slightly for the cross, blasted her shot from a stiff angle so hard towards the near post that Barbara couldn’t react in time. Her reaction and the reaction of her teammates (as well as the pumped-up crowd inside Qualcomm Stadium) showed just how big a goal it was.
3. Alex Morgan vs. New Zealand (International Friendly; Sept. 15): This was another beauty from Alex Morgan. Sofia Huerta, playing in her first cap, sent a long cross from the right wing into the left side of the box, where Morgan brought it down with her left foot, evaded a closing defender and then ripped her shot into the roof of the net for her second goal of the year. It was vintage Morgan.
4. Megan Rapinoe vs. Japan (Tournament of Nations; Aug. 3): Breaking ankles inside of the six-yard box is how Megan Rapinoe added her name to the scoring sheet. The goal came when Christen Press found space between two defenders to slip a beautiful pass to Rapinoe, who was cutting into the right side of the penalty box. Rapinoe latched onto the pass, faked a shot to force the Japanese defender into a slide and then hesitated long enough for the defender to move out of the way as she got to her feet. Rapinoe then had enough space to slot her shot into the lower left corner from close range. The goal was worthy of a classic Rapinoe celebration, and that’s exactly what she gave to the fans.
5. Christen Press vs. Korea Republic (International Friendly; Oct. 22): This much we know: Press can be lethal shooting from outside the 18-yard box. On a nice U.S. build-up through the midfield, Alex Morgan found Press with a threaded pass near the top of the penalty area. She squared up on a defender, made space for a shot with a quick move to her right and whipped the ball brilliantly into the upper right corner for her third goal of 2017.
6. Julie Ertz vs. Brazil (Tournament of Nations, July 30): After two goals in five minutes brought the USA back to life against Brazil, the game was now tied 3-3 at the 85-minute mark. Ertz completed the incredible comeback with her game-winning goal in the 89th. Rapinoe was once again involved in the goal, playing Kelley O’Hara down the right side on the overlap. O’Hara’s cross bounced off the sliding Carli Lloyd and back to Ertz, who blasted the loose ball into the back of the net from six yards out for the victory. It was Ertz’ first goal of 2017…. but it wouldn’t be her last.
7. Christen Press vs. Brazil (Tournament of Nations, July 30): After Brazil made it 3-1 in the 78th minute on well-placed free-kick goal, ESPN commentator Ian Darke was understandably gloomy about the USA’s prospects. “The U.S., surely sunk here….”, said Darke, but then something amazing happened. The USA scored three goals in nine minutes, starting with this Christen Press rocket. Megan Rapinoe slipped a perfectly weighted pass into the left side of the penalty box for Press, who collected, spun toward goal and smacked a right-footed shot into the upper left corner from 14 yards away to make it 3-2.
8. Alex Morgan vs. Canada (International Friendly; Nov. 9): Of her team-leading seven goals this year, one of Morgan’s best came against a familiar opponent: Canada. The play began when Casey Short did well to take advantage of some poor clearances by Canada and headed the ball back into the mixer. Morgan kept a U.S. attack alive by bravely heading the bouncing ball past a defender and then drilling a half-volley with her right foot between three Canada defenders. The shot bounced hard past the outstretched arm of Stephanie Labbé and into the lower right corner for a timely and stylish finish.
9. Allie Long vs. Russia (International Friendly; April 6): In classic Allie Long fashion, she scored on a header in the 70th minute (her second of the night) after Mallory Pugh crossed into the middle of the six-yard box. Long beat a pair of players with a powerful falling header for her fifth career goal (all of which had come on headers, although she did go on to score her sixth with her foot on Oct. 22) and her second multi-goal game for the USA, which coincidentally enough came exactly a year after her first (April 6, 2016, against Colombia in East Hartford, Connecticut).
10. Mallory Pugh vs. Japan (Tournament of Nations; Aug. 3): Pugh hadn’t scored for the WNT so far in 2017, and after suffering an injury during warmups on June 11 in Norway, she made her return to game action in the Tournament of Nations. Against Japan in the 60th minute, Pugh received a perfect ball from Taylor Smith and swiftly ran into the box, charging at the ‘keeper all alone before calmly finishing with a low shot. The classy finish by the 19-year-old showcased her decision-making as well as her growth over the last year.Read more
U.S. WNT defender Taylor Smith has only three caps under her belt and is currently participating in her third senior team camp. She made her WNT debut against Australia on July 27 in Seattle at the 2017 Tournament of Nations, starting and playing 76 minutes.
She went on to start against Brazil three days later and then came in as a first half substitute against Japan on Aug. 3 in Carson, California. Against Japan, Smith had two assists to set up both Mallory Pugh and Alex Morgan, earning the first points of her international career.
“Coming into my first WNT camp (in January of 2017), I had no expectations,” Smith said. “It was crazy to be playing beside Becky [Sauerbrunn] and so many others. Every day here I try to keep an open mind and learn as much as I can from the players on and off the field. I try to do every little thing that I can, from recovery to working on my mental game to be the best player that I can be.”
While there is still a learning curve for Smith to adapt to the WNT environment, her performance at the club level with the North Carolina Courage has been strong, which of course factored into U.S. head coach Jill Ellis calling her up again for the September New Zealand matches, alongside Courage teammates Samantha Mewis, Lynn Williams and Abby Dahlkemper.
“This year [at North Carolina] we all raised our expectations for ourselves,” Smith said. “We have a lot of chemistry and hold each other accountable every day at training to help each other get better. We’ve created this pretty cool culture that has really helped me grow and become a better player. It’s awesome having Sam, Lynn and Abby here. Having them here makes me feel more comfortable and they tell me to relax and play just like I do at the club.”
Abby Dahlkemper, Taylor Smith and Lynn Williams
With friends by her side, Smith is relishing the opportunity to find rhythm and her role within this the U.S. team. As the two matches against New Zealand approach, she is hoping to prove that she belongs on the 18-player game day roster and that her performance will show that she deserves future call-ups in this highly competitive group.
“When I got my first assist [against Japan], that was something that I feel like I needed to reassure me about being in this environment,” she said. “Now, I take it all day-by-day and I’m just trying to mesh well with this team and adapt to the culture.”
The U.S. WNT resumes its 2017 schedule on Friday, Sept. 15 (8 p.m. MT; ESPN2) when it takes on New Zealand at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado; and again on Sept. 19 (7:30 p.m. ET; FS1) when it plays the second of the two-game series at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.Read more