The United States got their FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup campaign off to a flying start with a 4-0 hammering of Ghana in Hiroshima, Japan, early Monday.
Penn State forward Maya Hayes grabbed a second-half hat-trick as the U.S. served notice that they wish to continue this summer’s successes. The senior women’s team scooped gold in the London Olympics earlier this month without hitting their best form. Steve Swanson’s U-20 side produced a dominant opening Group D display that a youthful Ghanaian line-up couldn’t cope with.
Yet the outcome could have been wildly different. Captain Julie Johnston appeared to impede Ghanaian forward Florence Dadson in the sixth minute as the pair chased a through ball toward the U.S. penalty area. Romanian referee Teodora Albon took no action.
Unlike the full national team, Swanson sent his players out in a 4-3-3 formation with full-backs Mollie Pathman and Crystal Dunn’s offensive bursts allowing outside forwards Chioma Ubogagu and Kealia Ohai to make cutting runs across the face of Ghana’s defense.
Numerical advantage in the center of midfield allowed the U.S. to patiently build their attacks from the defensive line to the forwards via the trio of Sarah Killion, Morgan Brian and Vanessa Di Bernardo. Those three quickly retreated behind the ball to form a tight 7-man rearguard when Ghana utilized their flank players.
Swift U.S. Attacks Have Ghana On The Back Foot
Ghana’s back four included two 16-year-olds and one 17-year-old. The inexperienced Black Queens were soon struggling to stay in the game after a sluggish opening 10 minutes from the Americans. Pathman’s first surge forward saw her linking up with Ubogagu on the left edge of Ghana’s penalty area. The Stanford winger worked a one-two with Brian to get behind Cynthia Yiadom, but the 17-year-old right-back recovered well to block Ubogagu’s cross.
The U.S. took the lead on 20 minutes after Pathman forced the game’s first corner kick. Brian soared above the Ghanaian defense to power Di Bernardo’s inswinger against the underside of the crossbar. The ball fortuitously rebounded into the net off 16-year-old center-back Linda Addai.
Pia Sundhage’s senior side struggled to effectively build their attacks through the midfield for much of the Olympic tournament and found greater success looking directly to Abby Wambach’s height or Alex Morgan’s pace behind the opposition’s defense. Swanson’s side, by contrast, displayed excellent patience to recycle the ball in defense when a forward option wasn’t available and change the focus of the attack. One excellent example of this almost led to a second goal on 23 minutes.
Di Bernardo received a layoff from Hayes and turned the ball back to Kassey Kallman on the halfway line. Kallman switched the ball left, where Pathman had space to run at Alice Danso. Pathman dribbled around her opponent before delivering a cross to the back post that Ohai helped into Di Bernardo’s path. The University of Illinois midfielder forced Ghana goalkeeper Patricia Mantey to kick away her 16-yard drive.
Ghana’s midfield couldn’t link with their front pair of Dadson and Elizabeth Addo as the U.S. anticipated their forward passes and launched into immediate counter-attacks. Johnston stripped the ball from Dadson on the halfway line on 28 minutes before advancing toward the final third and slipping in Ohai on the right flank. Brian provided one of three options to aim for, and side-footed a volley from 16 yards that forced a fully stretched Mantey to push the ball wide of her far post.
Johnston’s reading of the game and composure coming out of defense created another swift counter on 36 minutes that forced Mantey into another save. Hayes received the ball from her captain midway inside Ghana’s half and turned to find Ubogagu on the edge of the penalty area. Her left-foot drive was pushed wide of the far post by Ghana’s goalkeeper.
Excellent movement from the U.S. forwards created one final scoring chance before half-time. Dunn advanced up the right touchline to receive a pass from Johnston near the halfway line. She carried the ball into Ghana’s half before threading a long, low pass behind the defense. Central striker Hayes had dropped off into the midfield, creating a huge space for Ubogagu’s diagonal run from the left wing.
The London-born forward reached the ball at the edge of the penalty area ahead of advancing goalkeeper Mantey. Ubogagu turned, setting herself to curl the ball into Mantey’s far corner from 25 yards out as Yiadom retreated toward the goal line, but she sliced her shot wide of her target.
Hayes Second-Half Hat-Trick Confirms U.S. Superiority
Ghana struggled to respond. Wide midfielders Danso and 16-year-old Beatrice Sesu found themselves confronted by a three-man wall closing hemming them in when they received possession on the flanks. Playing the ball forward was difficult as four U.S. defenders covered Ghana’s front two. Turning inside was fraught with danger as the U.S. closed in to spring a counter-attack. Another quick turnover led to America’s second goal on 50 minutes.
Ohai harried left-back Grace Adams into a misplaced pass near the halfway line, allowing Dunn to intercept and feed Ohai in space on the right wing with Adams caught out of position. The North Carolina forward drove toward the end line before picking out Hayes’ front post run, and an easy header from six yards made it 2-0. The game was effectively over.
Wake Forest forward Katie Stengel took up the central role after replacing Ubogagu just after the hour mark. Hayes moved to the right with the impressive Ohai switching to the left wing. Swanson also tweaked his midfield on 72 minutes by introducing Samantha Mewis for Killion.
Stengel narrowly missed the far post on 73 minutes after being set up by Brian, but the U.S. notched their third goal within a minute as Ghana’s defense broke down. Yiadom failed to track Di Bernardo’s run forward to receive Ohai’s throw-in inside the penalty area. Mewis headed her cross toward the back post where Adams missed her attempted clearance and Hayes steered the ball past the stranded Mantey.
Hayes completed her hat-trick in stoppage time after another horrendous error by their opponents. Mewis slipped Hayes clear in the penalty box after Ghana substitute Jennifer Cudjoe let Faustina Ampah’s throw-in run away from her. The West Orange, N.J. native coolly clipped the ball over the advancing Mantey from 12 yards to seal an impressive opening performance.
Yet It Could Have Been So Much Different
The U.S.’ imperious display glossed over the fact that this game could have turned out so much differently had referee Albon taken early action against Johnston.
Rosemary Ampem’s hack out of defense found Dadson in a 1-vs-1 race with the U.S. captain as the ball evaded a badly misshapen American back line. Dadson accelerated to reach the ball 40 yards from goal, provoking a shirt tug from Johnston that allowed her to stay within reach and make a last-ditch saving tackle inside the penalty area as Dadson prepared to shoot.
It looked a clear foul that would have resulted in a straight red card for the U.S. defender. Instead, Albon pointed for a goal kick.
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