Mallory Pugh (9) celebrates her goal against New Zealand. (Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
The final score line read 5-0 but officially, only two members of the U.S. women’s national team got to write their names on the scoresheet in its victory over New Zealand on Sunday.
Football Ferns center back Meikayla Moore scored an astonishing three own goals in the opening 36 minutes of the SheBelieves Cup match at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif.
Second-half subs Ashley Hatch and Mallory Pugh found the net for the USA (1-0-1, 4 points) in the second half before a crowd of 16,500.
Still, the Americans’ performance was a marked improvement over the scoreless draw against the Czech Republic on Thursday night, particularly in the final third.
“Even though they were own goals, if you look at the way we built up to come to those opportunities, to come into the area or in a situation to create those was very good,” USA head coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “I thought that we were able to impose ourselves early on [on] the opponent. It set up a rhythm of pace that suits us on the way we want to play and ultimately led to a couple of goals.”
Sophia Smith, who set up the first goal, certainly liked what she saw.
“We just came out with a lot of energy,” Smith said on ABC. “That was big for us going into this game. It’s just more urgency to get in behind and score goals and then create opportunities.”
And score some goals of their own.
The Czechs (0-0-1) faced Iceland (1-0-0, 3) in the second game of the doubleheader.
Andonovski made six changes from the scoreless draw against the Czechs.
In goal for the first time since suffering a knee injury at the Tokyo Olympics last summer was regular keeper Alyssa Naeher.
The Americans applied pressure early on and the Football Ferns (0-2-0, 0) paid the price with a pair of own goals by Moore in the opening six minutes.
“We all have to understand this is a game and and own goals [are] a part of the game,” Andonovski said. “It just happened. It’s unfortunate that it happened to the same player.”
Andnovski called Moore an “incredible, incredible defender and I actually thought her positioning was very well.”
“It’s just unlikely sometimes the ball just is not going to bounce your way. It’s unfortunate, but it’s good this is a friendly game. We learn from this. We analyze everything and help other players to grow in moments like this and to grow in when when they face adversity, like she did. I have no doubt that she’s going be back up.”
Thanks to a quick restart in its defensive zone, the USA grabbed the lead. Smith powered a shot from the left flank that Moore deflected past goalkeeper Erin Nayler for an own goal in the fifth minute.
Smith had plenty of space to run for most of the game.
“Just the amount of space I had and was able to create for myself and obviously having Foxy [Emily Fox] with me out there. It was super fun to play out there with a lot of space and just kind of be creative, take players on it and create opportunities.”
That score snapped a 188-minute goalless streak for the U.S.
Only a minute later, the hosts doubled their lead. This time a ball came in from the right side by Sophia Huerta. Midge Purce headed the ball off Moore, as it went into the net for a two-goal margin.
The USA came close to adding onto its lead as Catarina Macario banged a close-range shot off the left post in the 24th minute.
It wasn’t that the hosts were sitting back and waiting for a New Zealand mistake. They were forcing the issue and several of their chances went their way.
Incredibly, Moore found her own net yet again in the 36th minute. Purce sent a right-wing feed into the box that the New Zealand defender could not handle and booted into her goal for a 3-0 American advantage.
Shortly thereafter, a disappointed Moore, who had made her 50th international appearance, was taken out of the game.
Hatch, a halftime substitute, made quick work of herself, scoring six minutes into the second half. The National Women’s Soccer League Golden Ball winner headed home Huerta’s right-wing cross for a four-goal lead.
It was the Washington Spirit’s forward third goal in five international matches.
Pugh closed out the scoring three minutes into stoppage time with her 19th international goal.
The Americans will finish the competition against Iceland at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas on Wednesday night.