German mistakes, Alex Morgan finishing give U.S. their ninth Algarve Cup

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It was the first big win of the Tom Sermanni era, one that went a long way toward assuaging some of the minor worries that surfaced in the wake of the Sweden result. Instead of falling behind and relying on their ability to come back in big games, the U.S. Women’s National Team took an early and permanent lead on Germany, with Alex Morgan’s two first half goals paving the way to a 2-0 win in the Algarve Cup final.

The victory gave the U.S. their ninth title in the history of the 19-year-old competition. Since 2003, the U.S. have won eight titles and have never finished below third place.

That result came last year when a group stage loss to Japan related the States to the tournament’s third place match. Wednesday’s result redeemed that finish as well as served as a minor break through, with the U.S. having drawn twice with Germany during a pair of October friendlies.

Ranked No. 2 in the world, Germany is the biggest victory of Tom Sermanni’s still short U.S. head coaching career, one he’ll get a chance to duplicate on Apr. 5 when the teams meet in Offenbach. Sermanni’s previous wins had come against Scotland (twice), Iceland, and China.

Just as in both October friendlies, the U.S. got on the board first. In the 13th minute a chip to the middle of the box from Sydney Leroux was met with a poor clearance from Josephine Henning, whose header could have gotten an assist after a fine left-footed finish by Morgan.

In the 33rd minute, another German mistake doubled the U.S.’s lead when Morgan beat keeper Almuth Schult to a ball just outside the top of the penalty area. Finishing into the empty net, Morgan made it 2-0.

Germany controlled the rest of the game, not surprising given the team’s styles, but of their 12 shots, they were only able to get five on Nicole Barnhart. The strong performance of a defense that played without captain Christie Rampone gave the U.S. their first win over Germany since the 2010 Algarve Cup final.

Rampone wasn’t the only regular who was not in Sermanni’s starting XI. Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach also started on the bench, with Wambach getting only 15 minutes work late after coming on for Christen Press.

With Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd injured and Lauren Cheney not with the team, Sermanni was able to claim the title with what was far from a first choice team. A tournament of four games in eight days has a way of wearing you down.

But in that process, the U.S. was able to get a measure of the new depth that greets the post-Pia Sundhage era. Yael Averbuch, filling in for Lloyd in midfield, proved capable, with enough flashes to quality to foster hope she can improve with regained playing time. Christen Press continued to show she can have an impact now, while Whitney Engen’s play has improved in defense. Herman Trophy winner Crystal Dunn looks like the first alternative to Ali Krieger at right back, while Kristie Mewis’ versatility was tested on the opposite flank against China. And in goal, all of Jill Loyden, Nicole Barnhart, and Ashlyn Harris got starts.

Combined with the title, the U.S. got exactly what they needed from this year’s tournament: An evaluation of where they stand against the field, and a hint of the options available in the player pool. And both evaluations came back glowing.