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United States Beats New Zealand 4-0

In the first of four friendlies before the World Cup, the United States mostly imposed their will on the Football Ferns for a 4-0 win, and did it with more style than they've shown for months.

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Let's get the caveats out of the way first.

New Zealand flew in on a trans-Pacific flight just days before facing the United States, while the Americans took a relatively short hop from Carson, CA to St. Louis, MO.  New Zealand had one day of practice together, while the Americans were in camp for a week in Carson, then a further three days of training in St. Louis.

So yes, the United States rolled over a tired team that hadn't had a chance to find their rhythm. The timing of the goals would seem to lend credence to this narrative: the first came in the 14', then a long stretch of nothing, followed by three rapid goals in five minutes starting in the 76' when the Ferns were surely running low on gas. But the game was far more interesting than that.

Ellis started newcomer Julie Johnston again, a move that is starting to pay great dividends, though YNT or Chicago Red Stars fans might be inclined to say I told you so. Ellis also brought back Megan Rapinoe in left midfield and gave a consecutive start to Amy Rodriguez, pairing her off with Alex Morgan.

Johnston and Rapinoe were both extremely active on the pitch, with Rapinoe often involved in the attack, even if some of her maneuvers didn't come to fruition. The exciting part of the game was how the attack attempted to take shape.

The USWNT has often been accused of being incapable of possession, sometimes unable to string together more than three passes in a row, sometimes forced to resort to long balls that ultimately go astray. Against New Zealand, the team kept the ball moving well in the attacking third, putting together nice sequences around the top of the 18 as they searched for scoring opportunities. They worked the ball through the midfield, alternated with crosses into the box. They threaded balls through the New Zealand defense as well, finding seams and looking for runners.

Unfortunately, the runners weren't there. Too often the offense was late running onto the ball or the pass was oversold or the New Zealand defense was able to close down around the ball. But the idea was there, and the very fact that the idea wasn't "spray some long balls from deep and hope we don't turn it over" is almost encouragement enough at this point.

Of course, the fact that all four goals were scored by non-forwards is worrisome. 60% of defenders who played scored a goal, and Morgan Brian definitively sealed New Zealand's fate in the 81' after coming on for Megan Rapinoe and almost immediately forcing a turnover. Alex Morgan was uncharacteristically off and though Amy Rodriguez knocked on the woodwork several times (and knocked with flair), they both remained shut out. Neither were Sydney Leroux, Tobin Heath, or Abby Wambach able to do much after being subbed on.

But watching this game, you get the sense that the slightest tweaking could result in a goal bonanza. Shave a few seconds, drop a few inches, and suddenly the midfield is finding the feet of Morgan and Press and Rodriguez and Leroux. These narrow margins towards actual World Cup quality are more progress than we've seen from this team in some time.

Player rankings:

Alex Morgan: 4
It was a less-than-mediocre day for Morgan, who seems slightly off kilter ever since returning from injury.

Amy Rodriguez: 7
A-Rod had a few quality looks on goal and made some good decisions on the attack, but was ultimately denied by the woodwork.

Sydney Leroux: 6
Her give-and-go with Morgan Brian was a nice example of the quick, short balls that made the attack spark.

Abby Wambach: 5
Wambach managed to redirect a decent header across the face of goal, but didn't have time to do much else.

Megan Rapinoe: 8
Rapinoe was heavily involved in the game and, despite a few mistakes, sparked a lot of creation along the left.

Carli Lloyd: 4
Lloyd went quiet for much of the game, excepting a rising shot at the end of the first half.

Lauren Holiday: 7
Holiday didn't impose her will much in the first half but eventually woke up and provided her usual high-caliber service on set pieces.

Christen Press: 5
Press was about as quiet as Lloyd, and about as accurate.

Tobin Heath: 5
Some decent runs from Heath, but as noted above, the runs weren't quite connecting with the service.

Morgan Brian: 8
She wasn't on the pitch long, but she had a definitive impact.

Meghan Klingenberg: 8
Absolutely fantastic goal from Klingenberg, a repeat of her long-range effort against Haiti in CONCACAF qualifying.

Becky Sauerbrunn: 6
Her rating is less a reflection of her work, and more an acknowledgement that the defense wasn't terribly burdened by New Zealand.

Julie Johnston: 8
She defends, she scores, she slices and dices.

Ali Krieger: 6
See: Becky Sauerbrunn.

Kelley O'Hara: 7
It's perhaps unfair to rate O'Hara on the same scale as the others given she subbed in in the 83', but she created some good movement up the right.

Lori Chalupny: 8
A great goal for Chalupny in her 99th cap.

Hope Solo: 6
Solo wasn't called upon often, but did have a few curious moments, such as in the 21' when she chose to punch instead of catch.