Alex Morgan scores, USA takes first game from China PR, 1-0
Seattle Reign FC midfielder Megan Rapinoe earned the assist
The Orlando Pride forward scored the lone goal on Thursday night. (Photo credit: John Todd)
The Orlando Pride forward scored the lone goal on Thursday night. (Photo credit: John Todd)

Orlando Pride forward Alex Morgan scored to lift the U.S. women’s national team past China PR 1-0 on Thursday night at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

Before Thursday night, USA and China have played each other 56 times over the past 32 years. The two countries will meet for a second friendly on June 12 in Cleveland, Ohio. These two matches are being used as crucial preparation for the Concacaf Women’s Championship that will take place in the U.S. from Oct. 4-17.

The U.S. took round one thanks to Morgan’s goal in the 55th minute. Morgan found the back of the net with a header off a bending service from Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC). This is Morgan’s 86th career goal and she earned her 141st cap on the night. She has now scored 13 goals over her last 14 matches. Pinoe earned the assist during her 136th international appearance.

The U.S. struggled to find a rhythm in the first half and had a difficult time playing against China PR’s low block. Yet where they were able to find success was when they found North Carolina Courage forward Crystal Dunn out wide. Dunn started in an outside back position on Thursday and was consistently active up and down the wing getting off crosses and tracking back defensively.

The U.S. had a challenge in the midfield to play against a team that wasn’t giving them gaps or space to play through. Chicago Red Stars midfielder Julie Ertz, North Carolina Courage midfielder McCall Zerboni and Portland Thorns FC midfielder Lindsey Horan were handed the starting task in the middle and struggled to string together the lines.

In the 34th minute, China PR looked like they were on the brink of getting the go-ahead goal after the U.S. turned the ball over in the midfield and China PR forward Li Ying got a chance on net. Chicago Red Stars forward Alyssa Naeher came up big for the U.S. and kept Ying and China PR off the board.

The two teams went into the break level at 0-0, but it didn’t take long after the break for the U.S. to capitalize off a free-kick chance. Rapinoe’s stellar service did the trick and connected with Morgan to put the U.S. up, and proved to be the eventual game-winning goal.

The USWNT’s starting lineup featured 10 players currently competing in the NWSL. The only player in the starting XI who doesn’t play in the NWSL is 19-year-old Tierna Davidson. Davidson, Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Morgan (Orlando Pride) and Rapinoe (Seattle Reign FC) are the only four players on the roster who have started every game thus far in 2018. The USWNT is now 6-0-1 this year and unbeaten in their last 15 matches.

North Carolina Courage midfielder Zerboni and Sky Blue FC forward Savannah McCaskill both earned their first international start on the night. This was Zerboni’s second cap (her first coming against the Korea Republic in 2017) and McCaskill picked up her sixth cap.

Zerboni went on to play a full 90 minutes and was named Budweiser Woman of the Match.

Utah Royals FC forward Amy Rodriguez came into the match in the 77th minute after not having played with the team since her last WNT camp in 2017. Rodriguez made her NWSL debut this year on April 14 after missing almost two full seasons to give birth and then to recover from an ACL injury.

Utah Royals FC goalkeeper Abby Smith and North Carolina Courage defender Merritt Mathias were both dressed on the bench, however, they did not enter the game.

The U.S. rode the lead for the remainder of the match, with chances trickling in as new personnel rotated into the match. U.S. head coach Jill Ellis used all her available subs, starting with a halftime switch in the midfield. She took out Horan and McCaskill and sent in North Carolina Courage midfielder Sam Mewis and Chicago Red Stars midfielder Sofia Huerta. In the 66th minute, Sky Blue FC forward Carli Lloyd, Christen Press and Seattle Reign FC midfielder Allie Long entered the game. The final sub was Rodriguez in for Morgan.

The U.S. will look to improve their 35-9-13 overall record against China PR next Tuesday when the countries meet for the second match of the FIFA break.

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