COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Mallory Pugh heard the cheers from the hometown fans when she came onto the field early in the second half. The cheers were deafening when she scored 37 seconds later.
“That’s never happened before,” she said. “I knew going in I wanted to make a difference and play the role I can play. It was definitely a special night.”
Pugh played her role perfectly, scoring twice in her return to Colorado to cap a three-goal rally, and the U.S. women’s national team held on to beat Australia 5-3 in an exhibition on Thursday.
Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe scored early in the second half, and Alex Morgan had a goal for the Americans.
The U.S. is 3-1-2 in the first six games of the Countdown to the Cup. The Americans have four games left leading up to the Women’s World Cup in France from June 7 to July 7.
The U.S. team will start defense of its World Cup title against Thailand on June 11 in Reims, France.
The match at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park was a homecoming for Pugh and Lindsey Horan. Horan is from nearby Golden, and Pugh is from Highlands Ranch. They heard the love from the crowd.
Lisa De Vanna, Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord scored the goals for Australia.
Pugh received a loud ovation when she checked into the game in the second half, and she wasted no time scoring. Emily Sonnett fed a pass as Pugh was charging in from the right side and she beat Australian goalkeeper Lydia Williams in the 67th minute to make it 4-2.
“I was wide open, so I was screaming for it,” Pugh said. “Thankfully Sonnett passed it. We were talking after and she said, ‘I thought you were going to pass it back to me.’ I was like, ‘No.'”
Horan, who said she could hear her youth club cheering for her, was happy for her teammate.
“She came into the game, gets her first touch and scores a goal,” Horan said.
Pugh scored another goal in extra time to seal it and hear the cheers from the crowd again.
“Mallory, coming in, that’s her role to come in and be a difference-maker,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “Those were world-class goals tonight. Mal is a really special player. She did well tonight.”
Just before Pugh’s first goal, Rapinoe gave the U.S. the lead when she got the ball at the top of the box, worked around to the middle and sent a low shot to the left corner in the 60th minute.
Kerr’s header in the 80th minute cut the lead to one, but Pugh scored in injury time to close it out.
Morgan’s goal was the 100th of her career and came in her 159th match. She tied Tiffeny Milbrett for sixth all time among U.S. players in career goals.
“To get into triple digits isn’t an accomplishment I take lightly,” Morgan said.
Morgan got the milestone marker when she fought off an Australian defender to gain control of a pass from Crystal Dunn. She then maneuvered around defender Alanna Kennedy and beat Williams with a well-placed shot to the right in the 14th minute.
The Australians got even when De Vanna got a pass from Foord and beat U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher with a shot to the far side in the 29th minute.
The Americans turned up the pressure and only a couple of good saves by Williams kept the score tied. She made a save on Rapinoe’s shot from close in and Ellie Carpenter cleared it off the line before it crossed in the 31st minute. Soon after, she got a hand on Horan’s high shot and knocked it over the crossbar.
Australia took the lead early in the second half when Foord dribbled through the defense and beat Naeher with a low shot in the 47th minute.
The Americans tied it in the 53rd minute, when Sonnett lofted a cross to Heath, and she headed it just past Williams to make it 2-2.
“There were patches we did OK, but against an opponent like them you get punished for mistakes,” Australia coach Ante Milicic said. “Maybe against a lesser team you might get away with mistakes, but not them.”