Highlights From U.S. Women’s Soccer Win Over New Zealand
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SAITAMA, Japan — The first game just wasn’t good enough, the United States women’s soccer players declared.
The loss of a single match, even the opening game of the Olympic tournament, was one thing. The lack of energy. The absence of purpose. The surrender of the team’s championship mentality, baked into their very being through years of wins and work — those were things they could never accept.
“It’s a switch that should never be switched off,” the veteran forward Carli Lloyd said. Her teammate Kelley O’Hara had boiled down the response to a single word.
“We have to come out the next game,” she had told her teammates privately ahead of Saturday’s game against New Zealand, “and we have to be absolutely ruthless.”
Ruthless was a good description for the performance the United States turned in during a 6-1 thrashing that was the polar opposite of the Americans’ disastrous performance in a shutout loss against Sweden only three nights earlier.
Then, the United States had been dominated from start to finish. On Saturday, they were the ones delivering the beating, applying the pressure, directing the game.
“Being on our front foot, winning every battle, having a physical presence out there — that was the first thing for us,” midfielder Lindsey Horan said. “Everything else comes next.”
The chances and the goals — the first came in the ninth minute — began almost from the first minute and arrived nearly every way imaginable: a Rose Lavelle curler and a Horan header, a skillful Christen Press finish and a clinical one by Alex Morgan.
New Zealand added to its own misery, and bloated the scoreline, by turning two own goals into its net, but even those hardly mattered. When the shots and the pressure finally stopped, the result was, from a United States perspective, a welcome 180-degree turnaround, and a fairer representation of what a team filled with World Cup champions and Olympic gold medalists can do.
“It is what makes this team really special: the mentality,” Lloyd said. “We can spend hours upon hours doing tactical work, technical work, but if we don’t have the mentality that’s been built for so long, since the start of this team, we’re not going to win.
“I’ve been a part of eight world championships, won four. I can tell you that we’ve won four because of the mentality.”
That mentality had been questioned in recent days after a listless, toothless defeat against Sweden on Wednesday. Many of the players had taken the result almost as a personal affront: a galling night that wounded their pride but not their expectations, a terrible day that could only be erased by a better one.
“You know, we don’t go from being a really great team a few days ago to not being a great team anymore,” defender Crystal Dunn said.
Setting out to prove just that, the Americans were relentless from the opening minutes. Coach Vlatko Andonovski made five changes to his starting lineup — bringing in veterans like Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz — and sent his team out on the hunt, to press the attack and to never let up.
How big was the win? It might have been far worse for New Zealand: The United States had four goals ruled out by offside calls in the first half.
Asked in his news conference if he would like to summarize the match, New Zealand Coach Tom Sermanni deadpanned, “Not really.”
His counterpart, Andonovski, was surely more pleased though barely more descriptive.
“We came here and did the job we needed to do tonight,” he said. “We wanted to be aggressive, wanted to play with urgency, wanted to be intense.
“I was very happy with the approach. We could see that right off the back, from the first whistle.”
Next up for the United States? A final group game against Australia in Kashima on Tuesday. Its defeat against Sweden could have lingering effects: Sweden won again on Saturday, beating the Australians, and now can claim the group with a win or a tie against a battered New Zealand.
The prize is a better seed in the knockout round — the Sweden-United States-Australia group winner will face a third-place finisher from another group, while the runner-up most likely will get the Netherlands or Brazil — and a chance to build some more momentum.
Based on Saturday’s effort, that is a feeling the United States has regained in abundance. Their gold-medal hopes had been dinged by their opening loss. By Saturday night, those expectations — not to mention the team’s swagger — might have returned.
“We needed to come out,” Horan said, “and show that we want this.”
FULL TIME: The whistle blows moments later and it’s all over: United States 6, New Zealand 1. And trust us: It wasn’t that close.
90′ + 2 GOAL! That’s an even half dozen as CJ Bott deflects in a Press shot for an own goal at the back post.
That one was the pretty bow on this victory: Alex Morgan at the back post with a striker’s finish.
88′ GOAL! Morgan makes its 5-1.
Ertz sends in a cross from the right but that finish is all about Christen Press: a trap with her left thigh, a quick shift of her weight as the ball drops right at her feet and the defenders part, and a cool finish with the other foot.
That’s a real bit of skill right there — it’s harder than it looks to deaden a driven cross right where you want it — and a terrific finish.
The United States leads, 4-1, and this one’s about done.
Two final subs coming in the aftermath: Catarina Macario sprints on for Horan, and Casey Krueger comes on for Crystal Dunn, who had a far better night than she did against Sweden.
80′ GOAL! Make it four for the U.S. thanks to Press!
That goal by New Zealand was well earned but a bit of a dumpster fire for the United States defense.
Abby Dahlkemper tried to clear but instead sent a ball straight up into the air. When it fell, it was to a New Zealand player, and when Dahlkmeper compounded her mistake by tripping and falling, she was in alone against Naeher.
The scrambling defense bought a few seconds, but the ball eventually found its way to Betsy Bassett, and she slotted home a shot. It won’t be one for the highlight reels, but New Zealand will take it.
Julie Foudy, a former U.S.W.N.T. player and one of tonight’s announcers, says that loss against Sweden was a “gift for the United States,” adding: “I always think those punches, as much as they hurt, are important.”
74′ Here’s Morgan a few minutes after the other subs, and Lloyd is off.
72′ GOAL! New Zealand gets one back.
67′ Two subs for the United States: Sam Mewis, who was dropped from the lineup tonight, replaces Rose Lavelle, who scored the opener and then ran her thin little legs off all night.
Christen Press comes on at the same time, for Rapinoe, who had taken her usual spot tonight. No sign of Alex Morgan, but maybe that’s because no one has the guts to tell Carli Lloyd she’s coming out.
61′ The U.S. has been playing with urgency, but it needs to maintain it. Some fresh legs might help. Sam Mewis and Christen Press are among the players warming up on the sidelines.
63′ OWN GOAL! The U.S. leads, 3-0!
52′ Worrying sign here: Julie Ertz collides with a defender at the top of the area, stays down and then comes up gingerly. Ertz missed months with a knee injury and is making her first start for the U.S. since April. But the pain looks like it was momentary; she’s up and moving well again.
Coming into this game, Kelley O’Hara said the team has to be “absolutely ruthless.” The players are definitely bringing that kind of energy tonight.
No changes for the U.S. at halftime, by the way, as the teams switch ends. Big half for the assistant referee covering the other half of the field, though; her colleague really padded her stats in the first 45 minutes.
46′ Back underway in Saitama. The U.S. hasn’t been whistled for offside yet, so thee’s that.
The consequences of the United States loss to Sweden were not only a matter of dented pride: The winner of the group faces a much easier start to the medal round.
The winner of Group G, which contains both teams, will meet a third-place finisher in the quarterfinals. At the moment, that looks like Sweden, which has two wins from its first two games, including a 4-2 victory over Australia earlier tonight.
The second-place team in Group G — a position the U.S. hopes to occupy — is looking at a matchup against the winner of Group F, which at the moment looks like the Netherlands, which lost to the United States in the 2019 World Cup final.
That is a very big difference. The Dutch, who scored 10 goals in their opening game, are currently doing stuff like this to Brazil in Rifu tonight:
Jill Biden, mask on, is one of the few spectators in the stands watching the game.
How do you know this is a different U.S. team from the one that came out flat and got pushed around on Wednesday? They were on New Zealand like a coat of paint and never let up.
That mentality, Lindsey Horan said Friday, was going to be critical to turning around their Olympic tournament. The idea can be hard to quantify if you don’t watch the U.S. team a lot, but it shows up as pressure on New Zealand when it has the ball, aggressive and probing attacks when the U.S. has it, and a bit of the, well, swagger that the team normally carries onto the field, and that was most definitely missing in the team’s opening game.
“It was talked about a lot and it needed to be mentioned: the mentality,” Horan told reporters in a conference call on Thursday. “It felt like it was missing and we couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but that’s never the case for the U.S. women’s national team. Any member that’s played for this team knows that. No matter what, no matter the tactics, no matter the technical execution, the mentality’s always there.”
Against Sweden it just wasn’t: The U.S. got bulldozed and even when it knew it was happening, it wasn’t able to turn things around. That was unusual — extremely unusual — and the first thing the players and Coach Vlatko Andonovski said had to change.
There has been none of that tonight: The United States has grabbed the game by the neck, shoved New Zealand to the floor and kept it there. It will feel … familiar. Probably to both teams.
“That was a nice little reminder against Sweden,” Horan said of her team’s losing its mojo. “I say ‘nice,’ but it was terrible. Now we get to go out and show who we are.”
A deep corner finds it way to Ertz at the back post, and she sends a header back into the mix in front of Leat, where Horan nods it home.
This time — after four (!!!) disallowed American goals in the half — everyone is onside and it counts. That’s a deserved reward for Horan, who has been much better than she was against Sweden, and for the United States, which has dominated play and looked like its old, swaggering selves.
Even the offside calls, frankly, speak to an aggression that will be welcome.
The whistle blows after a few minutes of injury time and we break for the half. Andonovski will be happy with what he has seen.
45′ GOAL! And — brace yourselves — this one counts!
I kid. The assistant referee has appeared to be correct on every decision, and there is video assistance at the Olympics, so if she was wrong it would have been fixed.
38′ The U.S. has gone several minutes without a disallowed goal. Rough stretch for the assistant referee but she’s taking it well.
34′ Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a switch-field cross sends in Horan at the back post, and her first-time header goes straight into the back of the net. But she, too, is called off by the assistant referee on the near side, who may be New Zealand’s M.V.P. tonight.
31′ OK now this is getting ridiculous. A cutback for Rapinoe is cooly finished, and you think. finally, they got the timing right.
But the flag is up and, for the third time in about 20 minutes, a U.S. goal is erased.
Almost a half-hour in and this game has the feel of U.S.-Sweden: One team on the front foot, repeatedly, and the other reeling under the pressure. The United States, which was in the latter role on Wednesday, is most definitely in the former tonight.
Another corner (two, actually) for the United States. Rapinoe rips them both into the area. Panicky clearances from New Zealand turned quickly into more pressure. The U.S. turning the ball right around and coming back.
That had been a real issue the other night: even when the U.S. got the ball, they couldn’t keep it long enough to set up their shape an counterattack. Easy turnovers caught players out of position, and cover wasn’t there when it was needed.
“There were moments of the game where the team just didn’t look like the team that I’ve known for years, even before I coached,” Andonovski said. “I think that we all understand that.”
28′ Goal?! No again. A lead ball to the left corner feeds Dunn, who crosses for Heath to finish at the back post. But this time is was Dunn who was a step early. And for the second time, a U.S. goal isn’t really a goal.
17′ The first U.S. mistake: Loose marking leaves Hannah Wilkinson alone in the area to collect a driven cross. But her stinging header goes well wide of Naeher. She’s not happy: that was a good chance, and those may be few and far between for New Zealand tonight.
15′ Goal? Nope. Sonnett sends a nice ball over the top for Lloyd, and she lifts it over Leat with a flick. But she was offside on the run, and the flag goes up immediately. No goal.
14′ It’s cool in Saitama tonight, with a light breeze. That’s good news for a U.S. team that’s running like a Formula One engine in this opening half.
12′ Carli Lloyd, backtracking again to win the ball, loses it and takes out the legs of Ria Percival, who had sped by to collect the free ball. Lloyd signals that she’s sorry but let’s be honest: she’s not.
The United States strikes first and it was clinical: Tobin Heath controlling and turning and leading a streaking Rose Lavelle perfectly into the New Zealand box.
Lavelle meets the ball in stride and curls a right-footed shot easily around the 20-year-old goalkeeper Anna Leat, who had come out only to find herself in no man’s land.
A perfect start for the United States. Let’s see if they go for the throat early with more of this.
9′ GOAL! The U.S. leads!
8′ More pressure: This time it’s Lloyd holding the ball up for Rapinoe, who takes a few dribbles and then takes a whack from 25 yards. Her shot in on line but not on target, and sails a few feet over the crossbar.
6′ Lavelle now coming in hard on a tackle, and Lloyd comes all the way to the sideline to slide and keep a ball in bounds. The most positive thing so far, if you’re the U.S. and Andonovski, is the energy level.
4′ Now it’s Rapinoe pushing into the corner. She delivers a woeful cross, but that’s more pressure on that side.
2′ That mentality we mentioned earlier? It’s back. Horan drives deep into the left corner and fires in a cross. New Zealand clears out to the right side, where Carli Lloyd backtracks and scythes down a Kiwi.
1′ And we’re underway. Enjoy the game. I hope your team wins.
The entire U.S. team turns 90 degrees to its right to face the giant American flag on the scoreboard. There was a bit of a hubbub on right-wing social media in a recent game; none of that tonight.
Rapinoe leads the U.S. out of the tunnel wearing the captain’s armband and an all-business expression. The U.S. is in blue and red stripes tonight. So add the uniforms to the changes from the Sweden loss.
New Zealand is in all white.
The U.S. players have dark blue shorts and their dark socks on, which probably means they’ll play in their red/blue jerseys tonight. Just in case you like to coordinate with your favorite player on gameday.
And here’s New Zealand’s starting XI. Some of these names will be familiar to American fans: Riley, Erceg and Bowen have been fixtures in the N.W.S.L.
There’s a bit of analysis of the U.S.W.N.T. lineup if you scroll down, but the headline is this: The U.S. has made five changes, and Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd are starting up front. Sam Mewis is among those who will sit.
Saitama Stadium, whose twin curving roofs make it look like the world’s most beautifully designed toolbox, is one of the largest soccer stadiums in Asia. Built for the 2002 World Cup, it holds about 64,000 fans on a good day — many of them supporters of the local team, Urawa Red Diamonds.
Tonight, like almost all of the other stadiums at the Games, it will hold precisely zero paying spectators.
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