WASHINGTON – "Leroux, Leroux, Leroux is on fire."
So began the Bloodhound Gang-inspired chant from the United States fans even before Sydney Leroux finished her four-goal outburst in the first half of the United States women's soccer team's friendly against Mexico. Leroux's hat trick-plus-one followed an Abby Wambach strike en route to a 7-0 USA win.
In 2010, Mexico handed the US women a stunning 2-1 defeat that put Wambach and company in danger of missing the 2011 World Cup . The team rebounded to win the third-place game in CONCACAF qualifying and beat Italy in a hard-fought playoff just to reach the Cup.
For the first 10 minutes, Mexico again looked competitive with the world power to the north. Starting seven players who recently completed play in the NWSL, Mexico pressed the attack early. Ageless wonder Maribel Dominguez, who played in the WUSA as well as the NWSL, passed when she had an easier shot. Then Renae Cuellar sent in a shot that tested Seattle Reign teammate Hope Solo.
"We're trying to win the ball further up the field, and by doing that, we have to keep our back line higher," central defender Becky Sauerbrunn said. "That means more space in behind, so you saw in the first five minutes, Renae Cuellar got in behind on a breakaway. It's all working to make sure our line is a line and not scattered. It takes time."
The United States women's national team made easy work of Mexico at RFK Stadium (Image:
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports).
Mexico followed up with a couple of corner kicks, but the USA proved to be more efficient with its early chances. Left back Kristie Mewis overlapped Kansas City teammate Erika Tymrak and played a simple cross to the befuddlingly unmarked Wambach, who had all day to deposit her shot past stranded goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago.
"We talked about being able to beat this team if we were able to get high and wide," Mewis said. "I tried to get wide so Erika could do her stuff in the middle."
"I'm used to playing with Kristie," Tymrak said. "We play on the same side together in Kansas City. I know her type of runs. She gave me the ball and overlapped me, I was able to turn and find her, and she played a great ball in."
It wasn't the last time Mexico's defense would strand its talented teen goalkeeper. In the 21st minute, Santiago did well to save from Wambach, only to see Leroux nod it home from close range.
In the 22nd, Santiago came up big in a 1-on-1 situation against Lauren Holiday high in the box. Leroux simply raced past the frozen defenders and tapped the ball in at the post.
Leroux beat most of the Mexican team singlehandedly to complete her hat trick, racing diagonally to her left and putting a slow roller past the wrong-footed Santiago in the 30th. Not only was the hat trick unusually quick, but Leroux had used three body parts -- head, right foot and left foot.
"To have the opportunities like I did, I give all the thanks to my teammates," Leroux said. "We're able to put each other in positions to score goals, and I'm thankful for that."
Video: Leroux gets four past Mexico
Santiago stopped several powerful shots from Tymrak, Heather O'Reilly and Carli Lloyd. But Leroux couldn't be denied. In the 41st minute, she rose above the crowd and got her head to Holiday's free kick to give the USA a 5-0 halftime lead.
"She had a lot of shots coming at her," O'Reilly said of her Boston Breakers teammate Santiago. "I think she did a nice job hanging on to a lot of them, especially in the first half. Coming in against the U.S. in a scoreline like that probably doesn't feel great for her, but she's a really up-and-coming keeper, so it was exciting to see her on the field."
Mexico again came out strong in the second half, giving substitute goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart a chance to get her hands warm with an early save. But Barnhart would be idle much of the half while the stat crew frenetically tracked waves of substitutes and Leroux chances.
But Leroux's teammates got into the act. Off a US corner, O'Reilly shot from the top of the box. The deflection fell to defender Rachel Buehler, who slotted it into a wide-open net.
The lucky seventh goal went to a local. Morgan Brian entered the game in the 70th minute to the roar of her University of Virginia teammates and much of the crowd of 12,594. Two minutes later, she shot from the top center of the box, and the ball deflected off a defender's leg over Santiago. Wambach picked up her third assist of the evening on the play along with her one goal.
"I already got my first cap under my belt, so I was a lot more comfortable on the pitch with the players," Brian said. "It will help me a lot with my college team, and I can hopefully increase my speed of play and stay here."
The other story of the evening aside from the scoring outburst was the prevalence of FC Kansas City players. Tymrak and Mewis tore up the left flank, Sauerbrunn continued to stake her claim to a spot in central defense, NWSL MVP Holiday (formerly Cheney) kept the offense flowing from midfield, Barnhart had a typically solid second half, and defender Leigh Ann Robinson -- who never played for U.S. youth teams -- made her national team debut at age 27.
"It just shows what a great season we had in Kansas City, and it was so amazing to be able to play with them," Mewis said.
Despite the result, which may have been even more lopsided if not for Santiago, the US women know not to take Mexico lightly when the stakes are higher.
"They're a tough group, and individually, you can see that they're very skilled," Sauerbrunn said. "They're going to be a formidable team if they start playing more as a team. But they had their moments tonight where they'd break our pressure and have some good runs. So it's a team you have to be wary of, and we have lost to them in the past. You can never take anything for granted."