The United States Women’s National Team gave several starters, including goalkeeper Hope Solo, the night off Monday, in the final game of group play in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament. But that didn’t stop the USWNT from emphatically punctuating their group stage sweep.
With a semifinal spot already locked up for the U.S., coach Jill Ellis rested veterans, Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston, Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath and Hope, and fielded a starting XI with an average age under 25. But the USWNT still dominated Puerto Rico 10-0 behind five goals by 23-year-old Crystal Dunn.
“This is definitely a special moment,” Dunn said afterward. “I think for me, personally, going forward my confidence is up and hopefully all our confidence is up and we can move this forward in the next game.”
Alyssa Naeher took Hope’s place between the pipes but faced just one shot all night. The reigning World Cup Champions held a 32-1 shot advantage and a 17-1 advantage on goal. Naeher logged a save on Puerto Rico’s lone shot on frame and picked up a clean sheet for her efforts.
After beating both Costa Rica and Mexico in the first two games of group play, the USWNT was already locked into the top seed in Group A and a semifinal berth. That security allowed head coach Jill Ellis to rest the majority of a starting unit that had just played a little over 48 hours prior, and mitigate injury risk. Only Ali Krieger, Carli Lloyd and Dunn remained from the starting unit that took the field in both prior qualifying matchups. Ellis hinted at this mindset before the game.
“Certainly looking at fatigue issues, looking rest and recovery and making sure we have a game plan and a mentality that make sure we can take care of business,” Ellis said. “That’s our No. 1 priority, to get three points and finish top in our group.”
It all went exactly to plan for the American women, led by Dunn, who was one of six starters age 23 or under.
The 23-year-old was the last players cut from the U.S. World Cup roster and responded to that move by dominating during the NWSL season, en route to league MVP honors. She has carried that momentum into her play with the USWNT so far in 2016, and she put an exclamation point on her rise Monday, breaking loose for five goals while showing just how lethal she can be going forward as the starting center striker for the Americans.
Dunn kicked off the USWNT scoring barrage in the sixth minute, with a goal off an assist from another budding young player, 17-year-old Mallory Pugh. In making the start Monday, Pugh became the youngest U.S. player to start an Olympic qualifier, and collected her fourth consecutive cap. Ellis expects the phenom to continue to push for playing time.
“She’s a very, very special player,” Ellis said of Pugh. “I thought she just looked so comfortable. For a player to come into this environment and play in front of the biggest crowd she’s been in front of, she’s just done exceptionally well.”
An own goal by the Mexican side, and scores by Lloyd, Kelley O’Hara, Christen Press and Samantha Mewis filled in the gaps between the five goals from Dunn. With the quintet of scoring strikes, Dunn became only the seventh player in the 31-year history of the USWNT to record five goals in one match, joining Brandi Chastain, Michelle Akers, Tiffeny Milbrett, Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux in the record books.
The other four teams in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament conclude group play on Tuesday night in Frisco, representing Group B.
Like the U.S. had in Group A going into last night’s match with Puerto Rico, Canada (2-0-0) has already locked up the top seed in Group B with wins over Trinidad and Guyana. They’ll look to sweep their group when they take on Guatemala (0-2-0) at 5:30 p.m. PT. Regardless of the result there, Canada will take on Group A’s No. 2 seed, Costa Rica, which locked up a semifinal spot of their own with a 2-1 win over Mexico on Monday.
But the USWNT will have their eyes on the 3 p.m. PT meeting between Trinidad (1-1-0) and Guyana (1-1-0). The winner of that game will be the opponent of the U.S. in the semifinals on Friday in Houston. The two semifinal winners will clinch spots in the Olympics regardless of the result of the tournament championship match.
The semifinal matches are set for Friday 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. PT from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston.
- WNT Tops Olympic qualifying group after 10-0 shutout (US Soccer, Feb. 15, 2016)
- Crystal Dunn scores five goals as US women rout Puerto Rico (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Feb. 15, 2016)
- US weighs CWOQ possibilities for Monday (CONCACAF, Feb. 15, 2016)
- Women’s Olympic Qualifying Schedule (CONCACAF)
- Dunn leads U.S. to rout of Puerto Rico (Associated Press, Feb. 16, 2016)
- Dunn joins rare company as USWNT inch closer to Rio (Fox Soccer, Feb. 15, 2016)
- Watch: Crystal Dunn scores five, USWNT demolishes Puerto Rico (CBS Sports, Feb. 15, 2016)