Qualifying, SheBelieves and Pugh, Pugh, Pugh

It’s already been a busy year for the U.S. Women’s National Team with Olympics Qualifying and the inaugural SheBelieves Cup. If I had to say one thing about 2016 so far for the USWNT it’s Mallory Pugh. This 17-year-old stand-out has been the shining star for the team. She’s brought in fire and excitement to the team, some of which was lost with the injury of Megan Rapinoe at the end of 2015.

Olympic Qualifying
CONCACAF Qualifying is always a little lackluster on the competition end but we did get to see a U.S./Canada match-up that hasn’t happened for a while. (May 8, 2014 to a 1-1 draw.) With score lines of 5-0 against Costa Rica; 1-0 against Mexico; 10-0 against Puerto Rico and 5-0 in the semifinal match against Trinidad and Tobago, it wasn’t a hard road to Rio. They beat Canada 2-0 in the final. Besides Pugh having an excellent tournament, Crystal Dunn won the golden boot with a tournament topping 6 goals (5 against Puerto Rico) and had a successful tournament. Criticism aside, it was a good practice for the She Believes tournament in March.

SheBelieves That We Will Win
I had been excited for this tournament since they announced it. I think so often, the USWNT end up playing minimal competitions before big tournaments, and though they end up pulling out amazing wins, a little competition leading up is always welcomed. The tournament between the U.S., Germany, France and England was set-up as a round-robin of each team playing each other and the team with the most points walked away the winner.

Game one for the USWNT kicked off against England, who certainly put up a fight with something to prove after they flopped out of the 2015 Women’s World Cup last summer. Dunn scored the stunning winner in the 72nd minute. Overall, the U.S. looked “meh” with an unorganized midfield from Lindsay Horan and Morgan Brian in a faster game than played all year.

Again, Pugh looked like one of the most dangerous players on the field for the duration. You’ll find a theme through this tournament, Carli Lloyd wasn’t a factor, which is concerning as she was the 2015 FIFA Women’s Player of the Year. The defense didn’t seem to click as well, which is an unfamiliar sight. England came to win and just couldn’t quite get there, with an final score of 1-0 to the USWNT.

Game two was against a tougher opponent, France. With stars like Elodie Thomis, Louisa Necib and Eugenie Le Sommer, I was nervous for the step up in competition. Overall, it was a similar match to the one against England but with France getting far more chances. In the first 20 minutes alone, the USWNT should have been down a goal or two. Lloyd had a difficult time making any impact, but Alex Morgan was starting to show a glimmer of what she once was prior to being plagued with injury. She had the game winning goal off of a beautiful, world-class assist from Pugh. Hope Solo was without doubt the player of the match for the USWNT.

Game three was against formidable foe Germany. It was a tough fought match. Germany struck first with a familiar name in Anja Mittag scoring a beautiful goal in the 29th minute. Morgan then scored off of a very “Alex Morgan-esque” goal, flicking the ball around a defender before finishing. In the 41st minute, Samantha Mewis scored off an oddly deflected goal. Though the USWNT looked more comfortable in the Germany match, there was still little action from Lloyd, who may be returning to pre-WWC performance levels.

Overall, it was a good start to the year leading up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio. For now, the ladies will start off the 2016 NWSL season with their respective teams this April. If you are in or near Seattle, Portland, Houston, Kansas City, Chicago, Rochester, Boston, Washington D.C., New Jersey or Orlando, the newest addition, you should check out the schedule to see a match! The USWNT will take the field again April 6 and 10, both against Colombia. A match against historic rival Japan, who are experiencing some turmoil and have failed to qualify for the Olympics, is also rumored.

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