HARRISON, N.J. — The U.S. women’s national team made a statement in their 1-0 win over Mexico on Sunday in its final World Cup tuneup.
The Americans are as deep as anyone in the world.
Lauren Cheney proved as much when she scored her third international goal of the year on a 25-yard shot past Mexico goalkeeper Ceci Santiage in the first minute of stoppage time. The forward had entered the game in the 61st minute in place of Amy Rodriguez.
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said that kind of depth is going to come into play when her team begins the World Cup on June 28 against North Korea in Dresden, Germany. The 2011 field is one of the deepest ever, and fresh, effective legs will be the key to any success.
“We’re going to play many games in the World Cup, and we need the players coming off the bench,” Sundhage said on a day in which the team honored retired forward Kristine Lilly, the national record holder with 352 international caps.
“Each team out there is deep,” Rodriguez said. “We saw that here when Lauren Cheney scored that goal for us. You want the best player to be able to come off and not miss a beat, and we proved how deep we are on our bench.”
The U.S. team will take a three-game winning streak, following consecutive 2-0 wins against Japan, into an eight-day break before heading to their Austrian camp. They will train until five days before the North Korea match.
They last saw their future opponent in a 2-2 draw in the 2007 World Cup.
Cheney’s goal came at the end of a dominant game in which the U.S. outshot Mexico 34-4. But because of Santiago, who stopped 13 of the Americans’ 14 shots on goal, the squad was in danger of heading to Austria will an unsatisfying tie.
Instead, the second-year national team member got a feed from Abby Wambach well outside the box. Picking up her head, she let loose a blast that beat the leaping Santiago into the upper left corner of the goal.
“I was looking behind me for Alex (Morgan) and Abby, but their back line had dropped so far that I just picked my head up and took a shot,” Cheney said. “We were so successful getting into the box all game, I don’t think the goalie was expecting a shot there.”
The victory sends the U.S. team off on a high note.
So high, in fact, that Sundhage felt moved to serenade the announced crowd of 5,852 with a verse from the Bruce Springsteen hit “Dancing in the Dark” — “You can’t start a fire without a spark” — adding that her squad has a spark.
And Rodriguez, whose three open first-half shots went awry, said a tie would not suffice.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “Pia’s always said we’re a better team for 90 minutes than any other team out there. We proved that today. A lot of teams can hang with us in the beginning, but we’re dedicated and we don’t give up. That’s why we’re able to score in the 91st minute.”