Hope and Co. Blank Costa Rica 8-0 to Start Victory Tour

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The United States Women’s National Team started their World Cup Victory Tour in fitting fashion on Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Hope Solo watched from the sidelines in the first half, while Ashlyn Harris tended the net, as her teammates built a 4-0 lead over visiting Costa Rica. No. 1 then came on to relieve Harris in the the second 45 and kept the sheet clean as the US side poured on four more goals in an 8-0 win in front of 44,028 at Heinz Field. Afterward, the USWNT players commented on how awed they were by the support shown for them in the first stop on the Victory Tour.

“When you walk out of the tunnel and you see that many people, that much red, white and blue,” said forward Christen Press, who led the USWNT attack with a hat trick, “you can’t help but be reminded why you want to play this game.”

Hope signs autographs for fans in Pittsburgh. Over 44,000 were in attendance for the first stop on the USWNT Victory Tour. (Michael Henninger, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Hope signs autographs for fans in Pittsburgh. Over 44,000 were in attendance for the first stop on the USWNT Victory Tour. (Michael Henninger, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Hope began the game in unfamiliar territory, out of the goal box and on the U.S. sideline, but it was a necessary and precautionary move, as she is still easing her way back into action after sustaining a knee injury during the team’s World Cup championship run in Canada. Since the World Cup Final, she has appeared in just one game for Seattle Reign FC — her National Women’s soccer League team — a 2-1 win over the Houston Dash last week.

With Hope still recovering, USWNT head coach Jill Ellis decided to keep her minutes in check, and use the international friendly in Pittsburgh to allow Harris a chance to start and gain experience as the team looks forward to the Olympic Games next summer, and next World Cup.

“You just evaluated players in pressure-cooker situations [in the World Cup]. You have that, and then this is a slightly different scenario,” Ellis said of her outlook on the upcoming stint of friendly matches. “It’s balancing all of that. It’s a process for me to go through and looking at what our needs are and looking at who we want to continue to invest in.”

After watching from the side in the first half, Hope was tested almost immediately after checking in during the 46th minute.

Just moments into the half, in the 50th minute, she found herself one-on-one with Costa Rica’s Karla Villalobos. But No. 1 showed herself to be in fine form. She aggressively charged from the back line and deflected Villalobos’ strike, sending it wide of the frame. Two minutes later, Cristin Granados sent a right-footed shot to the upper-right corner, but it too was blocked by Hope, who combined with Harris to notch her sixth shutout in the last seven USWNT matches.

Pittsburgh native Meghan Klingenberg celebrates with Hope her teammates, waving a Terrible Towel, after scoring the game's first goal (Julia Rendleman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Pittsburgh native Meghan Klingenberg celebrates with Hope her teammates, waving a Terrible Towel, after scoring the game’s fifth goal (Julia Rendleman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Not long after, defender Meghan Klingenberg tallied the team’s fifth goal of the afternoon off an assist from Tobin Heath. After scoring, the Pittsburgh native rushed to the bench, where Ellis tossed her a familiar gold “Terrible Towel,” which she waved exuberantly on the Steelers’ home field as she leapt into Hope’s arms in celebration.

“I loved the way that we scored that goal because it was a great team goal,” Klingenberg said. “Especially in front of a hometown crowd, and they went absolutely nuts. I think I went absolutely nuts, too.”

Both Hope and Klingenberg were recently named to the FIFA Women’s World Cup All-Star team. Defender Julie Johnston and midfielders Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe also joined them as the five Americans to make the all-tournament team.

Though both were recognized as All-Stars mostly for their defensive prowess, Klingenberg and Johnston were two of five U.S. players to notch at least one goal in the blowout victory. Johnston scored on a header off a Rapinoe assist in the 36th minute to make it 3-0. Whitney Engen also struck on a header off an assist from Abby Wambach in the 63rd minute to push the lead to 7-0. The rest of the scoring was handled by two women: Heather O’Reilly and Christen Press.

O’Reilly started the barrage just four minutes into the game, after swiping an errant pass by the Costa Rican defense. She added another goal in the 60th minute after corralling a near miss by Press. Press was the star of the match with a hat trick after scoring in the 29th, 45th and 68th minutes, the last of those coming off an assist from O’Reilly.

”I personally felt this victory tour was the beginning of a new journey,” Press said afterward. “I think the World Cup, for me, was an eye-opener on how great our team can be and also that I need to get to the next level. That I need to keep pushing myself and not be satisfied with where I am.”

NEXT UP

The USWNT continues their victory tour, and the push toward the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Wednesday, Aug 19 against this same Costa Rican squad at Finlay Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The match will be broadcast on ESPN 2 at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Hope will then have a quick turnaround, as her Seattle Reign FC team is set to take on the Houston Dash on Friday, Aug. 21 at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.

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