HARRISON, N.J. — The U.S. women’s soccer team achieved both of its top goals in its final game before the World Cup. Goals from Tobin Heath, Mallory Pugh, and Christen Press delivered a 3-0 win over Mexico, delighting a boisterous, near-sellout crowd of 26,332; and the entire team got through the contest without suffering any major injuries.
But there was just enough drama along the way to make some headlines as the team heads overseas.
Start with two moments when the crowd held their breath after big collisions. Alex Morgan was upended by a Mexican defender while taking a shot from close range in the 30th minute, and Julie Ertz took an inadvertent elbow to the nose from Kelley O’Hara in the 73rd.
Both players ended up fine. Morgan, the team’s top scorer, declared she was "all good” after the game.
The bigger deal was U.S. coach Jill Ellis’ move of winger Tobin Heath to left back at the start of the second half after a flurry of substitutions. Heath has played as a defender occasionally in her career, but it is far from her best position. She held the role Sunday for just under half an hour.
“In games where we build with three [defenders] and we rotate, our left back is essentially our wide forward,” Ellis said. “It was a natural fit, and I think Tobin did really well. It’s always good to have smart players that can adapt and adjust, and play any position if needed.”
Ellis noted that starting left back Crystal Dunn has been dealing with an ankle injury, and backup left back Tierna Davidson — really a centerback who can play out wide — has also been banged up.
That likely won’t satisfy critics of Ellis’ decision to leave Casey Short, perhaps the best true left back in the U.S. pool, off the World Cup team. Ellis floated the idea of Heath as a left back on the day the World Cup roster was announced, and while it seemed somewhat in jest at the time, some suspected she might not be kidding.
In three World Cup warm-up games this month, the U.S. women outscored their opponents by an 11-0 combined margin. All but two outfield players and the two backup goalkeepers saw action. Ellis defended not giving the outfield players, midfielder Morgan Brian and forward Jessica McDonald, a chance to take the field.
“When we play each other [in practices], we still get really good tests and really good looks,” Ellis said. “Jess, she’s a weapon and we’re going to make sure we know how to use her. Mo adds depth to the midfield that we need. … I think we have 23 players that have the confidence and the understanding to be able to come and play the role that’s needed.”