The U.S. plays its first game in the Women’s World Cup in just three weeks. So on Sunday, the team worked on some of the finishing touches for that tournament, scoring four times in the second half to beat Mexico, 5-1, before a sellout crowd of 27,000 at StubHub Center.
Finishing what they started has recently been a problem for the U.S., which got just three goals from 26 shots against Ireland last week, then followed that with just one goal from 12 shots in the first 45 minutes against Mexico.
And in between, the Americans played Canada to a 1-1 draw in a scrimmage played behind closed doors.
But if finding scoring opportunities hasn’t been a problem for the U.S., finishing those chances off has been.
That all changed when Coach Jill Ellis sent Abby Wambach on to start the second half of a 1-1 game Sunday. Thirty-five seconds later, she set up Lori Chalupny for the go-ahead goal, then added two scores of her own, turning what had been a game of missed opportunities into a rout.
“One of the things that’s such a strength of ours is the depth of our bench. And the ability for Jill to look down the bench and fix any problems that she sees,” said Wambach.
“We’ve got four forwards that would start on any national team in the world. And Jill has the option to change forwards at halftime.”
Sydney Leroux, making her first start since mid-December, also had a pair of scores — her first of the season — while the team’s four second-half goals matched its best output for an entire game this year.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean Wambach and Leroux, who are training camp roommates, will be paired as the starting forwards when the U.S. opens the World Cup against Australia — even if Alex Morgan remains unavailable with the bone contusion on her knee that has sidelined her for more than a month.
“I don’t know what Jill and the coaching staff are going to decide,” Wambach said. “But what I do know is that chemistry is so important. Tonight, Sydney and I were able to get on the same page.”
That wasn’t the case for a game Mexican team, which was outshot 29-6 but still managed to hang around until Wambach and Leroux combined for three goals in a 14-minute span midway through the second half.
Ariana Calderon’s header in the 39th minute accounted for Mexico’s only goal. It was also Mexico’s first score against the U.S. in nearly five years and the first U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo had allowed in six games.
The U.S. gets one last chance to fine-tune things before the World Cup, when it meets South Korea in the final game of its three-city send-off tour May 30 in Harrison, N.J.
By then, Ellis is hoping her preparation will be finished.
“Finishing is that final piece,” she said. “The amount of chances they’re creating, you just have to keep knocking on the door. Then just be persistent with it. And certainly they were rewarded.
“As a coach, you know the goals are going to come. And part of it is making sure how well you’re playing to get those chances.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11