Stay in St. Louis a Success for USWNT

Hope Solo’s return to St. Louis with the U.S. Women’s National Team was all she could have asked for and more.

Back on their home soil after sweeping their way to an Algarve Cup title in Portugal last month, the USWNT truly defended their turf with honor and pride on Saturday in St. Louis, defeating New Zealand 4-0 in front of a record-breaking crowd at Busch Stadium.

A brilliant defensive performance by the U.S. not only helped Hope produce the 82nd clean sheet of her international career, it also led to three of the four goals Team USA scored.

Defenders Meghan Klingenberg, Lori Chalupny and Julie Johnston each thrilled the home crowd with goals and midfielder Morgan Brian capped it off with one of her own to send the U.S. to a victory in the international friendly. But as well as they played in the match itself, to hear the members of the USWNT describe it, the story of the day was their warm welcome in St. Louis.

“It’s just incredible,” Chalupny, a St. Louis native, said after the match. “The atmosphere out there was awesome. We kind of looked around as a team like, ‘Let’s just soak this in for a second.'”

Busch Stadium

The announced attendance of 35,817 marked the biggest crowd ever for a women’s stand-alone home friendly and the third largest overall for a home friendly. It capped a week in which the USWNT received a welcome to St. Louis that exceeded even their own expectations.

The week itself, a five-day stay in the city culminating in with the friendly against New Zealand at Busch Stadium, was an incredible one for Team USA. The team got to take in the sights and sounds of the Gateway City while generating excitement for the upcoming World Cup.

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By the time they were through in The Lou, that anticipation was at a fever pitch. U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn, also a St. Louis native, credited the fans for their warm welcome.

“It’s amazing,” Becky Sauerbrunn said. “I had no doubt we’d get a really good reception, but this is a bit beyond our wildest dreams.”

Hope paid her own little tribute to the city by debuting a red kit, an homage to St. Louis’ signature franchise and the usual residents of Busch Stadium, the Cardinals. And while the Cardinals began their MLB season in Chicago on Sunday, the USWNT held down the fort in their stead.

The game was Hope’s 167th cap, which moved her past Brandi Chastain into 10th place on the all-time list. It was also her 161st start, which pushed her further past Briana Scurry (159) for most by a USWNT goalkeeper. But she didn’t get much chance to show off her St. Louis inspired kit, as the defense was so good in front of her that she needn’t make a single save.

Hope did face a pair of corner kicks that were defended well and covered the goal box by snatching a few loose balls out of the air to prevent scoring chances. But she went largely untested and that was just fine with No. 1, who has been incredibly pleased with the progress of the team over the last month. 

“A couple months ago, I would say ‘Oh gosh, the wheels are falling off,'” she told Fox Sports before Saturday’s match. “We still have a lot to do and we don’t have a set starting lineup so there’s a couple times. But I think we’re gunning for it, I really do.”

Hope Solo

The performance of the team on Saturday strongly backed that sentiment. 

Klingenberg broke a scoreless tie in the 14th minute with a blast into the upper left corner of the net to give the USWNT the lead. They took that 1-0 advantage into the locker room at halftime and pushed it in the second half. Chalupny struck first when she curled one in off a pass from Megan Rapinoe. Johnston followed two minutes later with a beautiful header from inside the box off a free kick that glanced off the crossbar and in. Just three minutes after that goal put Team USA up 3-0, Brian put the finishing touches on the victory, aided by a pass from Sydney Leroux that found her in stride, allowing Brian to finish a run with a low line drive shot off the left post and into the net. 

The game was perhaps the Women’s National Team’s best of 2015 from beginning to end and left coach Jill Ellis satisfied as the team continues preparation for the World Cup in June. 

“I was pleased,” she said. “I thought there were a lot of positives, not only scoring goals but also creating chances with players coming off the bench who helped us. We talked about working on keeping clean sheets so I’m pleased with that. Obviously, our back line was tremendous on both sides of the ball. I’m pleased because New Zealand is a good team. They like to pressure us. We got a good result against a World Cup team.”

Starting 11

After the match, all the members of the team stuck around to thank the crowd for their overwhelming support, meeting with fans in the stands, signing autographs and posing for pictures. For Hope and her teammates, it was a thrilling way to cap an incredible week in St. Louis.

NEXT UP

Everything is going according to plan for the U.S. Women’s National Team on the road to the 2015 World Cup, and the team will now take a reprieve before gathering again in May to begin final preparations for the tournament.

The next scheduled match for the USWNT is May 10th in San Jose, California, a friendly against Ireland. The game is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. PT and can be seen on Fox Sports 1.

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