The U.S. women’s soccer team beat South Africa, 3-0, on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif., in the first of three May friendlies before the women’s World Cup kicks off next month.
The Americans looked slow early on, but Christen Press brought the game to life just before the half-hour mark with some sharp runs up the left wing. She was one of two surprise starters in the game, along with Samantha Mewis in central midfield. They stood in for Megan Rapinoe and Lindsey Horan, respectively.
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Horan, according to the TV broadcast, is still suffering the effects of a hip injury that kept her out of her last game with the NWSL’s Portland Thorns at the end of April. She reportedly participated in U.S. training sessions in recent days.
Mewis provided the breakthrough in the 37th minute. She took a pass from Rose Lavelle just outside the 18-yard box, made a few crafty dribbles, then ripped a low shot into the net.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis made a flurry of halftime substitutions and moves to try a different lineup. Megan Rapinoe replaced Tobin Heath, shifting Christen Press to the right wing; Tierna Davidson replaced Kelley O’Hara, shifting Crystal Dunn to right back; and Allie Long replaced Abby Dahlkemper, which sent Julie Ertz - who suffered an injury to her mouth that had her bleeding - to centerback.
That led to another spell without much attacking spark as the new lineup started to mesh. South Africa, heading to its first World Cup ever, was content to sit in a low defensive block.
The Banyana Banyaya, as they’re nicknamed, are captained by former Houston Dash centerback Janine van Wyk. Two other former Dash players who weren’t at Sunday’s game are expected to be on the World Cup team: midfielder Linda Motlhalo and forward Thembi Kgatlana.
Just after the hour mark, Carli Lloyd replaced Morgan and Emily Sonnett replaced Lavelle. Sonnett went to right back and Dunn took Lavelle’s spot. It was a rare move into that role for Dunn, who has played it for the North Carolina Courage but usually stays on the back line for the national team.
There was an injury scare in the 69th minute when Davidson was involved in a head-to-head collision with South Africa’s Jermaine Seoposenwe, but Davidson was able to continue.
Mallory Pugh was the final U.S. substitute, replacing Press in the 76th.
A moment later, Mewis finally got the game’s second goal. It started with Megan Rapinoe taking a quick free kick after being fouled, playing a give-and-go with Davidson, then hitting a low cross that Mewis met after a strong run forward.
Lloyd finished the scoring in the 92nd minute with a turn and finish at close range. It was the Delran native’s 108th career national team goal, surpassing Michelle Akers to become the national team’s No. 4 all-time scorer.
“We were actually a little disappointed in the first half - that definitely wasn’t our best,” Mewis said on the TV broadcast afterward. “I think it says a lot about the group that we can go in at halftime and make some changes, and come back out with kind of a fresh start and a new plan, and show that we can evolve as the game goes on.”