It’s been a long journey, a lot of tears, a lot of blood, a lot of sweat, some heartache, some amazing incredible moments. It’s crazy to think it’s been close to 15 years. I still feel young, I still feel good, I still feel healthy, hopefully the best part of the journey is yet to come. —Hope Solo
SANDY — Alex Morgan loves coming to Rio Tinto Stadium.
It’s where the speedy striker made her U.S. National Team debut back in 2010 as an up-and-coming 20-year-old, and Saturday night she added to that mystique along the Wasatch Front.
The speedy U.S. striker terrorized Mexico’s defense for 90 minutes, recording two goals and three assists to spearhead a dominant 8-0 victory in front of 8,849 fans.
“It was a pretty slow start for the first five or eight minutes, but after we got going I thought we played well. I thought we found width really well, found space in behind really well and exposed them and their weaknesses,” said Morgan.
The friendly was a tune-up match ahead of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying which begins next month, and after Saturday’s shellacking it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Yanks don’t advance.
Morgan missed seven months earlier this year with a severe ankle injury, but Saturday’s performance is a clear indicator there are no lingering effects.
“I felt like I did well with the space in behind and I think our midfielders did well finding that space tonight,” said Morgan.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis was really pleased with how the U.S. attacked Mexico after a solid week of training in Utah working on a new formation.
“It’s what we worked on for the past five days we worked on combination, we worked on getting wide, and to see it translate like this is pretty fantastic,” said Ellis. “I’m really excited about the things we showed tonight, certainly we’ve got another level, but a good start for sure.”
It’s scary to think what that “other” level might be after an 8-0 victory, but everything right now is about being sharp for World Cup qualifying.
“Obviously eight goals is huge for anyone going into a qualifying tournament, but the best part about this team is we think we can still play better,” said Abby Wambach, who scored a pair herself.
With the victory, U.S. keeper Hope Solo earned her 72nd-career shutout to pass Briana Scurry for the most in team history. It was a relatively easy night with just one save, and that’s just fine for her.
“It’s been a long journey, a lot of tears, a lot of blood, a lot of sweat, some heartache, some amazing incredible moments. It’s crazy to think it’s been close to 15 years. I still feel young, I still feel good, I still feel healthy, hopefully the best part of the journey is yet to come,” said Solo, who said winning the World Cup next summer in Canada is the ultimate goal.
The United States improved its all-time record against Mexico to 28-1-1 with the victory, and it will get a chance to make it 29 next week. The teams will meet again in Rochester, N.Y. on Thursday, the last tune-up match before qualifying begins on Oct. 15.
It didn’t take the United States long Saturday to expose Mexico’s defense.
With Wambach applying pressure near the top of the box, Mexico’s Alina Garciamendez mishit a clearance badly with the ball popping up and over her retreating goalkeeper’s head and into the empty net for the early 1-0 lead.
In the 23rd minute, Wambach doubled the United States lead on the simplest of finishes. After Morgan’s initial cross from the end line was blocked, the ball stayed near Morgan’s feet and she quickly tapped a pass to an unmarked Wambach six yards from goal, an easy finish for the all-time leading scorer in U.S. history.
The speedy Morgan increased the lead to 3-0 in the 36th minute on another defensive miscue, picking the pocket of Mexico defender Bianca Sierra and volleyed it over the keepers head.
In the 41st minute, Wambach latched on to another Morgan cross pushing the lead to 4-0.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis started to make several substitutions at the half, but the onslaught never let up. Morgan scored her second in the 56th minute to make it 5-0, while substitute defender Whitney Engen headed home a corner kick in the 58th minute.
Sydney Leroux and Heather O’Reilly wrapped up the scoring in the 71st and 75th minutes respectively.
“This is great preparation for World Cup qualifying. I’m sure we’ll see Mexico in the qualifying tournament, so this is great for us to see what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are,” said Morgan. “But it’s good for us because we haven’t played too many games yet this year so it’s always good to get games under our belt with obviously a new formation and with Jill trying to make a couple adjustments in final preparations for the qualifying tournament.”
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.