On a windy Friday evening at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Julie Ertz netted two one-timer goals to lead the U.S. Women’s National Team to a 3-1 victory over New Zealand.
In front of 17,301 fans, the Americans came out strong from the first whistle.
“We were super excited, the fans were loud and into it and it makes it even more fun,” said Ertz following her brace in Friday’s friendly.
After winning a corner kick in the 16th minute, Kelley O’Hara sent a loose ball back into the mix, finding the head of Lindsey Horan. The Golden native’s header found the right foot of Ertz, who rattled it into the back of the net.
“A great ball was played in and I could see that she couldn’t get her full momentum, so I knew that she was probably going to try and pop it down,” Ertz recalled. “I just tried to read it as well as I could and yeah, she placed it perfectly and I was able to finish it."
But that was just the start of Ertz’s night.
In the 24th minute, Highlands Ranch native Mal Pugh sent a beautiful cross to a wide-open Megan Rapinoe on the back post. However, Rapinoe’s header bounced off the post as the crowd let out one, collective cry.
That gasp of frustration would change tune just seconds later.
Flying in from the top of the box, Ertz perfectly timed her right-footed volley, which ripped past New Zealand goaltender Erin Nayler.
Playing three in the midfield, Head Coach Jill Ellis said Ertz gives her squad a very interesting profile.
“She wins everything in the air,” Ellis said. “She cleans everything up and her passing game has been really good. She just gets on the end of everything. I mean, she just has a knack for scoring goals.”
Despite a brilliant two-goal performance, Ertz turned the spotlight on her teammate, Kelley O’Hara, who she lifted up and cradled in her arms in her second-goal celebration.
“Tonight was for Kelley,“ Ertz said with a smile. “Wearing the crest is always amazing, and being able to score and help your team in any way is even more special, so I just cherish those moments.”
In the second half, the wind picked up, as did New Zealand attack.
In the 75th minute, Ali Riley sent a cross into a 2-on-2 situation. It would be Hannah Wilkinson winning the battle in the air to put the Ferns on the board, 2-1. O’Hara would go down on the play and be replaced by Casey Short.
Seeing their captain go down in such a milestone match, the United States didn’t waste time putting together its response.
Just four minutes later, Alex Morgan took matters into her own hands.
Off the cross from Sofia Huerta, Morgan’s light tough brought the ball to her feet inside the box. Patiently baiting her defender, Morgan unleashed a left-footed strike that soared over Nayler’s head, skimming the crossbar before settling in the netting.
Colorado natives Mal Pugh and Lindsey Horan earned their 27thth and 31st to cap off their senior team careers, respectively.
“I thought Mal did exceptionally well out there,” Ellis said about her youngest player. “[She] Had some good combinations with Taylor (Smith). I mean they’re both new to that position in terms of this level. Mal playing high and wide and I thought they found each other exceptionally well."
Horan’s assist on Friday night was her 10th career assist with the USWNT.
“I thought Lindsey put in a good shift, worked extremely hard,” Ellis commented on Horan. “I actually told Lindsey today, “I’m not starting you just because you’re from here, I’m starting you because you deserve to play.”
Ellis also highlighted the state as a hot-bed for talent.
“To have two players locally on the women’s national team and starting speaks a lot in terms of the development that’s happening here in this area.”
100 FOR O’HARA
Kelley O’Hara became the 36th women in U.S. Women’s National Team history to notch 100 caps with the senior club on Friday night.
Ellis named O’Hara captain in Friday night’s match.
“She’s always an energy for us and a spark plug,” Ellis said in their post-game presser.
O’Hara made her debut as a forward in 2010 against Mexico. In 2012, she helped Team USA win a gold medal in London, playing primarily as a defender.
The U.S. and New Zealand will play a second friendly on Tuesday, September 19 in Cincinnati.
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