The Women’s World Cup champion United States defeated Costa Rica in Sunday’s soccer exhibition at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.
The magic moment arrived along with the rolling ball, and suddenly, for Morgan Brian, it was like a trip back in time through hundreds of training sessions on the First Coast.
The pass. The shot.
The eighth goal of her international soccer career was coming, and now, she was a scorer on her home turf. And a winner, too.
"It definitely feels different [from other goals]," Brian said. "Growing up here, it’s nostalgia, coming back, being by the beach, by the water, being home, coming here and being able to score a goal in front of friends and family."
Champions of the world, the United States women's national team showed off their skills, speed and unsurpassed teamwork, cruising past Costa Rica 6-0 in Sunday night's international soccer friendly match at TIAA Bank Field.
Four months after lifting the Women's World Cup trophy in France, the U.S. women touched down on the First Coast to continue building toward next summer's Olympics in Tokyo and entertain a Jacksonville crowd of 12,914.
No moment brought that crowd to its feet quite like the 10th minute.
Brian, the St. Simons Island native, raced onto a precise pass down the left side from Rose Lavelle and drilled a shot past Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermudez.
The loudest cheer. The brightest highlight. A midfielder who only scored six times in her first 83 international games now has two goals since the end of summer.
"Now she shows different sides of her [game]," United States coach Vlatko Andonovski said. "Adding that weapon to her quality makes her a more complete player."
Carli Lloyd, Christen Press and newcomer Margaret Purce also scored while Lynn Williams found the net twice off the bench for the U.S. women, who close the book on 2019 with a record of 20 wins, one loss, three draws and an unforgettable World Cup summer.
"It’s a bit of a chapter end," Press said, "and a new beginning at the same time."
The new beginning is still a perfect beginning for Andonovski, still unbeaten through two matches since taking over the helm of the world champions in late October. He wanted high pressure, and much of the time, he got it.
Brian, at the left edge of a midfield triangle alongside Lavelle and Julie Ertz, played her part in a full-time chase brigade that caused the Costa Ricans no end of trouble, starting with a goal after only three-plus minutes with a mix of the new and the not-so-new.
Lavelle, the 24-year-old who broke through at the Women's World Cup and won the Bronze Ball there, won possession and threaded a precise pass for captain Carli Lloyd to rocket into the roof of the net.
Though the Americans extended their record of perfection against Costa Rica, beating the Central American nation for the 15th time in 15 encounters, the visitors overcame the U.S. press on occasion and struck the goalposts on second-half shots by Melissa Herrera and Priscilla Chinchilla.
Andonovski, who emphasized before the match the importance of pressing high and forcing turnovers, said he wanted to see further improvements in defensive pressure.
"At times we were good, we were able to win the ball high up and capitalize... but at the end of the day, I think we can be better," Andonovski said.
The world champions poured on the goals in the second half. Williams, who replaced Lloyd at halftime, finished off an assist from Tobin Heath, Press put away a crisp finish in the 56th minute and Williams reacted instantly to half-volley a headed pass from Jessica McDonald into the net 12 minutes later.
Right fullback Purce, in her first international match, rang out the year in the 86th minute on a tight-angle shot that looped into the net for an own goal off Costa Rica’s Stephanie Blanco.
Jacksonville again lived up to its reputation as the Florida Fortress for U.S. Soccer.
The U.S. national teams, both men and women, have now won their last eight international matches here, a streak that extends back to a 1997 men's victory against Israel.
"It’s been a really long year for all of us, and a great year," Brian said. "To cap it off here in Jacksonville with a goal and obviously a great win for the whole team, it’s great."