It was a tale of two halves for the United States on Sunday. The first half was shaky despite the United States getting on the board first through a Sydney Leroux goal. Shots went over and around the goal, but not in. Then Mexico equalized late in the half from a header by Ariana Calderon, who was crashing the box to redirect a free kick from Bianca Sierra. The teams went into their locker rooms tied at 1-1.
Then came the second half, and three subs: Lori Chalupny, Christie Rampone, and Abby Wambach. Chalupny scored in literally the first minute, popping the ball in near post during a mad scramble in front of the goal. It was all downhill for Mexico from there, ending in a 5-1 loss.
"Mad scramble in front of the goal" was mostly the order of the day. The scoreline could have been worse for Mexico but for some big stops by 20-year-old goalkeeper Ceci Santiago and some determined defending, but at the same time the finishing wasn't there for the United States in the first half. Things would go from messy to hectic in the box as players either couldn't find a clear channel for a shot on goal, shot into traffic, or endured a clearance and restarted the attack.
The second half saw definite improvement, with the crowning moment arriving as Tobin Heath struck defender Kenti Robles like a smooth criminal (crime: ankle breaking) and set up an assist to Wambach, who finished off the goal with a casual (for her) header. Heath's switch-up will no doubt live on in Robles' nightmares and dozens of vines.
The United States had their moments, mixing long balls with some midfield possession, and the 5-1 scoreline was fun, but fans would do well to remember that this was a friendly send-off game (at least, it was for the US; no doubt for Mexico it was an excellent chance to evaluate their World Cup preparation and collect invaluable game footage).
Not all back lines will be as accommodating to penetrating runs in behind, nor will all goalkeepers be as untethered from their lines. Mexico didn't have the fitness to match the cardiovascular machine that is the United States for 90 minutes, nor did they have a deep enough bench to replenish the well. The United States wasted plenty of opportunities, opportunities which will come sparingly in World Cup competition.
The send-off games are about hype, getting everyone's game legs under them, and building some confidence. In that sense, so far they've been a decent success, and the US did look livelier against Mexico than they did against Ireland. Their next game against South Korea, the last in the send-off series, might give viewers some idea of whether they're on target to peak during the tournament or if group stage will be more nervewracking than usual.
One thing is certain: we're all rewatching that Tobin Heath vine a few more times.
Lineup: Solo, Klingenberg (Chalupny, 46'), Sauerbrunn (Engen, 70'), Johnston (Rampone, 46'), Krieger (O'Hara, 70'), Lloyd, Holiday (Heath, 63'), Rapinoe, Brian, Press (Wambach, 46'), Leroux