- Jeff Carlisle, Soccer
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With the Olympics fast approaching, Alex Morgan continues to live up to the hype. She scored two goals for the U.S. women's national team in a 4-1 win against China in Sunday's friendly, one of a handful of tuneups leading up to London.
Zhang Rui had staked China to a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute, but Morgan pulled the Americans level 11 minutes later, curling home Heather O'Reilly's deflected pass. An own goal from China captain Zhou Gaoping in the 36th minute put the U.S. ahead, and Morgan sealed the match five minutes into the second half, showing good strength to fend off her marker before rifling home a shot from 20 yards. Abby Wambach capped off the scoring in the 83rd minute, converting from a tight angle after taking a throw-in from Morgan.
While the U.S. ultimately eased to a victory, the match wasn't without some hiccups. In particular, a sloppy start to the game characterized by some ill-advised passes will no doubt trouble U.S. manager Pia Sundhage.
China showed its intentions as early as the fourth minute, when Han Peng clipped the crossbar. The visitors also showed no hesitation in pressuring the Americans in their own half and, as a result, the U.S. tried to play its way out of trouble rather than take the direct route. Such a sequence led directly to China's goal midway through the first half. Amy LePeilbet's high-risk pass deep in her own half led to a turnover, and a quick pass put Zhang in on goal and her shot cleanly beat U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo to the far post.
The U.S. midfield had looked disjointed at times, and if China made more of some counterattacking opportunities, the Americans might have found themselves in a bigger hole. That they didn't was due to the play of center backs Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler, who put out plenty of fires.
The flank play of O'Reilly and Megan Rapinoe also started to have an effect. O'Reilly teed up Morgan two minutes earlier only for China goalkeeper Zhang Yue to make a sharp save, and the U.S. went that route again to grab the equalizer. A darting run from O'Reilly saw her take the ball to the end line, and her centering feed was cleared straight to Morgan to lash the ball home.
Two minutes later, Rapinoe's free kick was kept alive at the far post by Shannon Boxx, and Wambach's header was then nodded into the goal by China captain Zhou.
The two goals seemed to relax the Americans and they found it easier to connect their passes thereafter. And when Morgan scored after latching onto Rampone's long ball in the 50th minute, the U.S. was on cruise control.
The team's efforts were aided by the halftime introduction of Lauren Cheney, who added a fair bit of composure on the ball, allowing the U.S. to control the tempo. Cheney was surprisingly absent from Sundhage's starting lineup, but a team spokesman said it was more a case of Rapinoe raising her game in training. Rapinoe certainly did her bit to keep her spot in the lineup, especially in the second half when she tucked in centrally.
Overall, it was mission accomplished for Sundhage and her squad. There are things to work on, but there are also three more warm-up games to work out the kinks, including games against Sweden and reigning World Cup champions Japan in mid-June. As for the Diamond Bar, Calif., native, Morgan probably wishes the Olympics started tomorrow.
Player ratings (on scale of 1-10, 10 being best)
G Hope Solo, 5: Didn't seem her usual confident self and appeared to overcompensate to her near post on China's goal. Still, she was rarely troubled.
D Kelley O'Hara, 6: Got caught upfield a few times, which China exploited with balls over the top. Decent work on the ball, however, and looked to get more comfortable as the game progressed. Linked up well with Rapinoe.
D Rachel Buehler, 7: Was on hand to help out O'Hara when needed and was sure in the tackle. Her long-range passing was a potent weapon, as well.
D Christie Rampone, 7: Solid in defense and sprung Morgan for her second goal with a pinpoint delivery from deep.
D Amy LePeilbet, 4: Tried too many high-risk passes out the back, which finally cost the U.S. on Zhang Rui's opening goal in the 23rd minute. Needs to play safe more often.
M Megan Rapinoe, 6.5: Should have passed instead of shooting on a seventh-minute chance. But, in general, she was capable on the ball, especially from set pieces. Was also effective when tucking inside.
M Shannon Boxx, 5: Kept the play alive in the run-up to the second goal, but was one of those who played hot and cold. Got caught upfield on occasion, resulting in some Chinese counterattacks.
M Carli Lloyd, 4.5: Play was up and down. Unlucky not to equalize for the U.S., but struggled to connect on some passes early on.
M Heather O'Reilly, 6.5: A constant threat down the right wing in 45 active minutes, setting up Morgan for a great chance and another for the striker's first.
F Alex Morgan, 7.5: Was a menace facing up to goal. Her 34th-minute tally settled the Americans' nerves and her second goal in the second half essentially put the game away. Only complaint is her link play was inconsistent, which stymied some U.S. attacks.
F Abby Wambach, 6: Seemed oddly quiet for much of the match, whether it was getting on the end of passes or connecting with teammates. Still had a positive impact as her header led to the second goal and she scored the Americans' fourth from a tight angle.
(Substitute) M Amy Rodriguez, 5: Had one bright sequence early in the second half, but did little of note after that. Lacked the finishing touch in front of goal.
(Substitute) M Lauren Cheney, 6.5: Brought some composure to the field when she came on at halftime, allowing the U.S. to get more possession.
(Substitute) D Becky Sauerbrunn, 6: Showed her usual good decision-making, especially in the timing of her tackles.
(Substitute) F Sydney Leroux, 6: Showed good energy after coming on and nearly got a goal of her won with a blistering drive in the 86th minute that was well saved.