Two goals in the final two minutes of the first-half from veteran striker Abby Wambach left the USA in a comfortable position at half-time and they extended their lead nine minutes after the break through Julie Johnston.
Although the USA dominated possession, in front of a capacity crowd of 18,000, they found it hard to break through a disciplined Irish defence who stuck ridgidly to their task from the first to the last whistle and were helped by a superb performance from goalkeeper Niamh Reid Burke who was only making her second start in what was her fourth appearance between the sticks for Ireland.
Forced to plan without five first team starters, Ireland manager Sue Ronan handed Wexford Youths Women’s defender Jessica Gleeson her first cap and proceeded to cap two more Wexford players Ciara Rossiter and Nicola Sinnott during the game. Gleeson lined up beside Megan Campbell in the heart of the Irish defence with Aine O’Gorman and Meabh De Burca on the flanks. Karen Duggan made her first appearance of 2015 in the centre of midfield alongside Ruesha Littlejohn and Denise O’Sullivan with Julie Ann Russell and Stephanie Roche on the flanks and Fiona O’Connell as the lone striker up front.
The USA actually widened the pitch by a metre on each side which was a backhanded compliment to the Irish as they sought to stretch the visitor’s defence but ably marshalled by skipper O’Gorman, wearing the captain’s armband for the first time in 76 appearances, the Girls in Green stood firm.
They were tested early on when Reid Burke was called into action for the first time in what proved to be a busy afternoon for the Raheny United keeper. Diving full stretch to her right she turned a long-range shot from Amy Rodriguez around the post for a corner and from the resultant flag-kick Rodriguez hit the crossbar.
Wambach went close with two headers before Reid Burke made two superb saves within minutes of each other. First she saved a long range effort from Rodriguez and then she produced a great block to deny American skipper Megan Rapinoe. Earlier she had gone down to save smartly from Christen Press,
The Irish seemed to be heading to the half-time with a clean sheet when disaster struck in the space of two minutes. In the 43rd minute Ruesha Littlejohn’s attempted clearance from a corner struck Meabh De Burca full in the face and with the Irish players distracted for s spit second the Americans took full advantage and Press squared the loose ball to Wambach who slotted home the opening goal.
Two minutes later the Americans doubled their lead when Carli Lloyd crossed to the back post and Wambach headed home with the Irish defenders appealing for a handball that was missed by the referee. It was Wombach's 180th international goal.
Gleeson, who had a super first half, was forced to come off at half-time after shipping a heavy knock and was replaced by Ciara Grant who slotted into midfield with Duggan moving to partner Campbell in the centre of defence.
Reid Burke continued to be busy in the second half and produced another great save when using her feet to deflect a shot from Press onto the crossbar but she had no chance in the 54th minute when Julie Johnston lost her marker at a corner kick and turned home Lauren Holiday’s corner at the unguarded near post
Wambach was denied her hat-trick by Reid Burke after she had sprung the Irish offside trap but the visitors remained solid to the end as they suffered a three goal defeat for the first time in 26 games when USA beat them 5-0 in Oregon in November 2012.
“You come in every game and you want to win. You don’t want to lose any game but I have to say I am really proud of my players. They were really outstanding today. They gave their all,” said Sue Ronan
Sue Ronan Video Interview: https://vimeo.com/127447144
Niamh Reid Burke: https://vimeo.com/127447138
Ireland now head to Florida to play Haiti at 1am (Irish time) on Thursday.
Republic of Ireland: Niamh Reid Burke (Raheny United); Aine O’Gorman (C) (UCD Waves), Megan Campbell (Florida State University), Jessica Gleeson (Wexford Youths WAFC), Meabh De Burca (Galway WFC); Julie Ann Russell (UCD Waves); Ruesha Littlejohn (Celtic), Karen Duggan (UCD Waves), Denise O’Sullivan (Glasgow City), Stephanie Roche (Houston Dash); Fiona O’Sullivan (Notts County). Subs Used: Ciara Grant (UCD Waves) for Gleeson (46), Katie McCabe (Raheny United) for F O’Sullivan (73), Ciara Rossiter (Wexford Youths WAFC) for Russell (83), Nicola Sinnott (Wexford Youths WAFC) for Roche (90). Unused Subs: Charlottee McCormack (Clayton State University), Emma Beckett (Amazon Grimstad), Emma Hansberry (Castlebar Celtic).