Frisco, Texas (Feb. 11, 2012)
On an unusually frigid day in Frisco, TX the U.S. Women’s National soccer team took to the field Saturday afternoon against New Zealand in a high tempo international friendly. Although temperatures hovered just above thirty degrees, the home of FC Dallas featured a fired up sold out crowd of 20, 677 fans eager to cheer on the Olympic bound squad. The US team failed to disappoint as they rallied to defeat a resilient New Zealand team 2-1.
The first several minutes of the game initially displayed a very overmatched New Zealand group. However a rare missed penalty kick by forward Abby Wambach in the 9th minute seemed to be the spark that New Zealand needed. Although the Kiwi’s were not much of an offensive threat in the first half, their defense refused to give in to the constant pressure placed by the forward line of Wambach and Alex Morgan. The offense had several missed opportunities in the first half and Wambach found her self repeatedly frustrated against the veteran Jenny Bindon in goal for New Zealand. Despite good field position through the first forty-five minutes the Americans were unable to convert.
The second half opened quickly with a goal for New Zealand in the 49th minute by forward Hannah Wilkinson. A second half substitution that removed goalkeeper Hope Solo from the game saw Nicole Barnhart give up what was New Zealand’s first actual shot on goal of the entire match. While the US continued to place offensive pressure with repeated shots on New Zealand, Bindon and her defense fought successfully to keep the US at bay. Coach Pia Sundhage looking for an additional spark made a change in the 62nd minute when she substituted the spirited Megan Rapinoe for Carli Lloyd. Even with additional substitutions that brought in Sydney Leroux and Lori Lindsey, the US still struggled to find a good rhythm through the midfield.
That is until the 88th minute when once again the late game heroics of Alex Morgan brought the US the much-needed equalizer as she headed in a beautiful cross from Rapinoe. Though initially unclear if the ball crossed the line, the refs quickly gave the US the much-needed goal. With renewed energy the US challenged New Zealand with fierce intensity into stoppage time. What was at first looked at as a thankful draw quickly turned into to a bitter loss for New Zealand as Morgan headed in her second goal of the game off of a ball flicked from the head of Wambach in the 3rd minute of stoppage time.
Sundhage had this to say after the game about the formations she has been juggling with over the past several games. “We played way too direct in the first half. That was something we brought up in halftime. It looks dangerous with Alex and Abby but we can’t play that kind of soccer for ninety minutes.” She noted that she changed to a 3-4-3 formation when she brought in Leroux midway through the second half. When asked about whether Morgan would continue to see time as a starter Sundhage has this as a response. “Well is she continues like this, the way she is playing is great . . .Alex’s ability to score goals with Abby is amazing and I hope it stays like that.”
A clearly cold and worn out Wambach provided a perfect summation of the game during the post interview session. “Today was a classic United States win and regardless if the first goal can be questionable, we miss a penalty, we kind of give them their goal. . . . regardless it shows the kind of fighting spirit that this team has and that is something we are really proud of”.
Enough cannot be said of the crowd that came out to support the US women. On an unrelentingly cold day the stadium had standing room only and an atmosphere that rivaled any tournament match. The US will continue their preparation for the London Olympics with the Algarve Cup, which takes place in Portugal at the end of the month.