April 2, 2011

England 2, United States 1

For the third time in the last five months, the United States tasted defeat as England executed a dominating first half performance to a 2-1 victory. Jess Clarke and Rachel Yankey scored for England.

For the first 35 minutes of the match, England thoroughly controlled possession and scoring chances, as the United States rarely threatened. The middle three of England's 4-3-3 formation, Kelly Smith, Jill Scott, and Fara Williams clearly outplayed their counterparts during the opening half.

England struck first just eight minutes into the match. Rachel Yankey outfought Ali Krieger for a ball on the left side of the box and crossed to the middle where Jess Clarke finished past Nicole Barnhart, with a bit of an assist from Kelly Smith who did a nice job of screening Amy LePeilbet away from the ball. England was up 1-0 and the game had just barely begun.

England made it 2-0 before the half hour. On a counterattack, Kelly Smith found wide open spaces between the US midfield and back line. She dribbled for a long stretch to the top of the box, where three defenders converged on her. She deftly passed the ball outside left to a wide open Rachel Yankey. Yankey hit a beautiful finish, high and inside the right side netting.

England had other golden opportunities and barely missed on a couple of free kick opportunities, with Fara Williams hitting the crossbar on one and Kelly Smith bending another just inches wide. The US were quite fortunate to only be down by two goals at the 35 minute mark.

But against the run of play in the 39th minute, Megan Rapinoe received the ball toward the left side just past center, dribbled to the middle unchallenged and let go a low shot from 22 yards that beat English keeper Karen Bardsley just inside the left post.

Pia Sundhage made two substitutions at the half, sending Stephanie Cox in for Amy LePeilbet, who was making an uncharacteristic start at left back and looked none too comfortable doing so. The other sub was Hope Solo, seeing her first action in eight months, in for Barnhart. Solo did make a nice sliding save early in the 2nd half, but was relatively unchallenged otherwise.

The early part of the 2nd half was a bit more evenly played than the first, but the US was still unable to manufacture any scoring chances. Three more substitutions followed, with Lauren Cheney coming on for Abby Wambach in the 62nd minute, Alex Morgan subbing for Amy Rodriguez in the 70th, and Tobin Heath in for Megan Rapinoe also in the 70th. Wambach still did not look 100% with a heel injury that's been bothering her for several months.

The substitutions seem to breathe life into the US side and the chances started coming, even though the goals did not. The best chance may have been in the 71st minute when Rachel Unitt just handed the ball to Heather O'Reilly who had clean breakaway only to send the ball wide of the left post as an onrushing Bardsley forced the shot.

England had one of her best chances just a minute later as Kelly Smith got behind the American defense. Smith, who played a very strong match, hit an unusually weak shot that rolled wide, much to the relief of the US team.

Hope Powell made two second half substitutions, Sophie Bradley for Faye White, who appeared injured as she came off, and Karen Carney for Yankey.

Alex Morgan, who has been the US spark as of late, had as many as four chances in the last 20 minutes, but just couldn't find the net. In the 76th, Carli Lloyd hit a hard shot that was saved by Bardsley with the rebound falling to Morgan, but she just couldn't get a good shot off. In the 80th minute, she received a brilliant long pass from O'Reilly, chested the ball down, but her shot sailed just wide of English goal.

In another instance, the ball rolled just past Bardsley at the top of the box in traffic, but Morgan was knocked off balance as she went by and was unable to take advantage. It was Morgan again in the 86th minute sending a hard shot wide left of the goal.

The final chance for the US came in stoppage as a hard Carli Lloyd shot was blocked by Unitt. The United States had finally run out of time and the final score stood at England 2, United States 1.

For England, Kelly Smith had her usual strong match, as did Rachel Yankey and Fara Williams. In fact, the entire English midfield played very well and their forwards were active for the first three quarters of the match. Yankey and young Ellen White kept the US defense back on their heels for much of the match. The English back line made strong flank runs early, especially Alex Scott, and were just good enough defensively to preserve the win. Bardsley was solid in goal.

For the US, Heath, Cheney and Morgan gave the team energy and Heather O'Reilly played a strong second half. Megan Rapinoe was also very active early on. The US defense looked uncomfortable and a bit overmatched at times, before settling down as the 2nd half wore on. They often faced superior numbers as England was able to exploit the huge gaps between the US midfield and back line.

The United States will train in Scotland for a few days before returning home. Their next action will be a pair of matches against Japan in May.