HARRISON, N.J. – Bidding farewell to Team USA for the FIFA Women’s World Cup with a send-off game in Harrison, New Jersey, it was only fitting the “Jersey girls” had the glory.
Tobin Heath, from Basking Ridge, had one goal, and Carli Lloyd, from Delran at the other end of the state near Philadelphia, set up another, leading Team USA to a 3-0 victory over Mexico on Sunday in its final friendly match before traveling to France.
After the game, Lloyd was the last of the 23-player roster introduced in a brief send-off ceremony, drawing the loudest cheers from the capacity crowd of 26,332 at Red Bull Arena and acknowledging her home state fans to another roar.
“I’m a Jersey girl through and through. This is where my roots are,” said Lloyd, who at 36 is entering her fourth Women’s World Cup and admitted that this is likely her last. “This was a tremendous crowd. Great crowd. Great stadiums, one of my favorite stadiums to play in.”
The match was the last of three in two weeks before Team USA departs for France to defend the title it won in Canada in 2015. The Women’s World Cup opens June 7 with France facing South Korea in Paris. The U.S. will play Thailand in its opener in Reims on June 11 before finishing its group schedule against Chile on June 16 in Paris, and Sweden on June 20 in La Havre.
Team USA leaves having outscored its last three opponents 11-0, including two fellow World Cup qualifiers, South Africa and New Zealand. It gives coach Jill Ellis a sense of confidence.
“A lot of boxes checked today,” Ellis said. “I think it was a good test for us.”
Ellis used 17 of her 23 players on a bright sunny day in 86-degree temperatures at the noon kickoff, sending in five substitutes, including Lloyd, to start the second half.
Heath scored on a defensive gaffe by Mexican goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago and Rebecca Bernal in the 11th minute, while Lloyd set up a goal credited to Mallory Pugh in in the 76th and Christen Press added one in the 88th to complete the victory.
“I think it speaks to the depth in terms of the players,” Ellis said. “You have to be able to problem-solve. All of these were pre-planned subs.”
Besides replacing half of the starting lineup, Ellis also shifted players frequently, moving Julie Ertz from her new regular center midfield position back to central defense, where she played during the last Women’s World Cup. Heath slipped into the outside back role, trading positions with Crystal Dunn for a period.
Regardless, Team USA dominated throughout, outshooting Mexico 25-3 and forcing Santiago to make seven saves, some of the acrobatic variety.
But Santiago caused her own problem early, throwing a ball to an inattentive Bernal standing at the top of the penalty area. Heath dashed in, took a touch to her left and drilled a shot past the goalkeeper.
Santiago kept Mexico in the match with a series of saves in the final 15 minutes, coming off her line to block a charging Alex Morgan in the 35th, turning a header by Dunn wide in the 44th and tipping another shot from Dunn inside the box high in first-half injury time.
Pugh’s goal came after Ertz sent a ball out of the back down the left. Lloyd was able to get to the end line before sending a cross into the middle that television replays showed Mexican defender Yamilé Franco deflecting into the net.
Press added the finale when Pugh crossed a ball from the right flank. Ertz tipped it with her foot into Press at the top of the penalty area, where she turned and sent a low shot past Santiago.
The match was the third straight time Team USA has played in Red Bull Arena for its final game before leaving for the Women’s World Cup, the second time for Ellis, who believes she’s more comfortable this time around.
“I’ve been on a longer journey with this group,” Ellis said. “There are so many similarities: the hunger, the passion, the focus. That’s common in both groups. I’ve spent more time with this team. And in terms of knowing and building flexibility, the depth, it’s different in terms of that.”
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.