PORTLAND, Ore. — It was the match you’d expect when the top-ranked team in the world faces one a that’s yet to come into their own internationally, but even by those standards, it was an impressive performance from the United States. After an initial feeling out period reminiscent of an undercard’s first rounds, the States woke up, putting a 5-0 pasting on Ireland at Jeld-Wen field.
More readily Alex Morgan woke up. With goals in the 24th, 34th, and 44th minute, 2012’s leading scorer staked the team to a 3-0 halftime. A perfunctory 45 final minutes featuring two goals from Sydney LeRoux, given the U.S. a decisive victory in front of 10,092.
Morgan’s goals pushed her to 27 on the year, the third-highest single-season total in national team history.
Leroux’s double give her 12 goals off the bench, a new record.
As much as the match seemed like a mere exhibition, there were a number of areas of focus for a team whose offensive firepower has often overshadowed areas of relative concern. Drawing from PST’s preview:
1. When will the Sermanni effect be felt?
The U.S.’s new permanent coach doesn’t take over until January, but Tom Sermanni’s new team is aware: A new boss is coming in, and with that comes a new need to earn a place in the team.
For Becky Sauerbrunn, who was making her first start at left back for the national team, a new position provides a possible route into the starting lineup. Although her movements often looked like a player moving from a more comfortable, central position, the former midfielder looked as viable any option Sermanni has at his disposal.
But none of Sermanni’s style was evident tonight. There was no increase in play out of the back. The link up play through midfield was less tactical than physical. The United States were using their talents to overcome inferior opposition, an formula that’s worked thus far.
2. Is the defense improving?
It was impossible to tell. Ireland is ranked 34th in the world and didn’t threaten to qualify for Euro 2013. They’ve won one match all year. This wasn’t the team to test the U.S.’s defense.
3. [Obligatory concern about the midfield here]
As with the defense, Ireland wasn’t the team to test Lauren Cheney and Carli Lloyd. Most of the U.S. build up was through the wings, with the central midfielders’s chances to make an impact on late runs into the box.
Cheney played a crucial part in two of the goals, while Lloyd had little to do against an Ireland team that spent the match on their back foot.
4. Is Heath really a wide player?
Tonight she was. Before Morgan went on her scoring rampage, Tobin Heath was the States’ best player, creating a number of opportunities lined up against the opposition’s right back.
While most of her best efforts still suggested she’s more of a central playmaker than left winger, her defensive awareness supporting Sauerbrunn suggested she has important to offer whomever emerges as the team’s starting left back.
Taking turns with right wing Megan Rapinoe running into the space above Cheney and Lloyd, Heath provided a viable picture of her future as a starting left wing, and although Heather O’Reilly offered a counterpoint with a pinpoint cross for one of LeRoux’s goals, it’s hard to see Heath returning to a substitute’s role while playing at this level.
5. Is Portland ready for the new big time?
There were a number of reasons for Portland to produce a small crowd. A late weekend night start in cold weather against a vastly inferior opponent was hard to sell, especially with an entry-level ticket price of $38. But the Portland faith produced a five-digit crowd, something you’d think replicable with when the prices drop and the team bares the city’s name.
In the end, it’s only Ireland, and it’s still two-and-a-half years away from the team’s next major competition, But for a team that traditionally come out slow in the first of these two match set games, it was an impressive performance, even if relatively so.