The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) won their opening game of the 2016 Olympics with a convincing 2-0 victory over New Zealand, earning them three points to start of group play in the tournament.
The game featured some of the most precise, effective play from the reigning Olympic champions since the World Cup. Not surprising though, as the USWNT is a team that often plays to the level of their opponents and tends to rise to the occasion.
Carli Lloyd, who scored the U.S.’s first goal of the match, is also known to be a big game player. Most famous for her hat trick in last summer’s Women’s World Cup final, Lloyd has also scored the last two Olympic-winning goals for the USWNT.
The match’s other goal scorer, Alex Morgan, is also known to perform well under Olympic pressure, if her last second goal in the 2012 semifinal match against Canada is any indication.
Tobin Heath, who was appearing in her third Olympic games, and Olympic rookie Morgan Brian sat out the last Olympic send-off match against Costa Rica with injuries, both were featured in the starting lineup for the USWNT. Megan Rapinoe, the third player who sat out against Costa Rica, did not play in the U.S.’s Olympic opener as was reported well before Wednesday night’s match.
The USWNT nearly struck first in just the fifth minute when Mallory Pugh sent a cross in front of goal, but it was deflected by Abby Erceg and went out for a corner kick. Kelley O’Hara took the kick and Julie Johnston got her head on it, but Erin Nayler was able to block the header. Alex Morgan nearly put the deflection into the back of the net, but Nayler was there to block the shot once more, and the ball went out of danger.
Just moments later Ali Riley, defender for the Football Ferns, fouled Carli Lloyd just outside of the box, giving the USWNT a free kick in a dangerous position for New Zealand. Although Tobin Heath’s kick was perfectly placed for a running Morgan to get her head on it, but the header went well off target.
Carli Lloyd put the USWNT on the board in the ninth minute when Tobin Heath sent in a ball from outside of the box and Lloyd’s header went just inside the far post and into the side net for a goal. Although the NZWNT protested that one of the assistant referee’s flag was up signaling Julie Johnston was off sides, the referee overturned the call and the goal stood.
In the 18th minute, Tobin Heath was tackled hard by Betsy Hassett, resulting in a yellow card for Hassett and a free kick for the U.S. Heath’s kick went right in front of goal, but it was an easy save by Nayler to deny the USWNT of a second goal.
Most concerning to many fans after Wednesday night's match is the status of Mallory Pugh, who went down in the 22nd minute with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Pugh continued playing until the 51st minute, but a team representative is reported as to have said after the match that Pugh had a "right ankle knock" but that the extent of her injury was still unknown. Pugh, who has become a fixture in the USWNT starting XI at just 18 years of age, has three goals and a team-high seven assists for 2016.
Hannah Wilkinson nearly put New Zealand on the board in the 29th minute when defender Julie Johnston attempted to clear the ball with her head, and Wilkinson settled the ball and sent a shot on goal. Luckily for Johnston and the U.S., goalkeeper Hope Solo was able to easily come out and collect the shot.
Just moments later Kelley O’Hara and New Zealand defender Ali Riley, teammates at Stanford University, got tangled up on the field when O’Hara interrupted Riley’s run with a sliding tackle. Riley stuck her leg up as O’Hara tried to get up from the tackle, earning the New Zealand forward a yellow card.
The remainder of the first half finished out uneventfully, with both teams attempting to generate opportunities on goal but falling just short, and the USWNT went into halftime leading 1-0.
Within 35 seconds of the second half restart, though, Alex Morgan doubled the USWNT’s score when Allie Long passed to Tobin Heath, who one-touched the ball to Morgan Brian. Brian passed the ball to Morgan, who moved the ball into the box and fired a shot off from the left side. The ball went under a diving Nayler’s arm and into the net to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead.
Morgan nearly had an assist in the 49th minute when she made a run near the end line and cut back to Heath, only to have Erceg deflect the pass and knock it out of danger. Amber Hearn tried to answer with a New Zealand goal when she took a shot in the 50th minute, but the shot went well wide left of the goal.
Ria Percival took down Tobin Heath, who made an excellent cut on the ball to cut off the defender, just outside of the box, earning Percival a yellow card, New Zealand’s third of the match. The USWNT was awarded a free kick, but Carli Lloyd’s shot sailed well over the four-player wall and over the goal as well.
New Zealand had its best chance on goal in the second half in the 80th minute when Kirsty Yallop took a corner kick from the left side of the field. The ball was punched out by Hope Solo, but the ball was easily put back into the box by New Zealand, where it bounced around between players for a bit before going out for another NZWNT corner kick. The second corner kick was far less dangerous as Johnston was able to clear it with a diving header.
Hope Solo was tested about two minutes into stoppage time when Percival sent in a long ball over the field, hoping to connect with a teammate making a run on goal. However, Solo was able to come off her line and win the ball in the air.
Although Solo was not heavily tested by the Football Ferns, she was tested by the Brazilian fans in attendance of the match. Any time Solo had the ball, the fans would loudly boo her, and in the second half the began yelling what sounded like "Zika" whenever she kicked the ball. It seems as though Solo’s social media posts regarding Zika have upset the host country’s residents.
All in all, the United States was by far the more dominant team on the field. They outshot New Zealand 12-4 and had six shots on goal compared to New Zealand’s one.
The USWNT and NZWNT will continue Olympic group play on Saturday, August 6. The USWNT play France at 4 p.m. EST, followed by New Zealand and Colombia at 7 p.m. EST.
USA Lineup: Hope Solo; Kelley O’Hara, Julie Johnston, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Klingenberg; Morgan Brian (Lindsay Horan, 64’), Allie Long, Mallory Pugh (Crystal Dunn, 51’), Carli Lloyd, Tobin Heath; Alex Morgan (Christen Press, 81’)
Subs Not Used: Alyssa Naeher, Whitney Engen, Ali Krieger, Megan Rapinoe
Head Coach: Jill Ellis
NZL Lineup: Erin Nayler; Ali Riley, Abby Erceg (C), Rebecca Stott, Ria Percival, Betsy Hassett, Katie Duncan (Kirsty Yallop, 72’), Annalie Longo, Katie Bowen (Sarah Gregorius, 60’), Amber Hearn, Hannah Wilkinson (Jasmine Pereira, 83’)
Subs Not Used: Rebecca Rolls, Anna Green, Meikayla Moore, Rosie White
Head Coach: Tony Readings
NZL – Betsy Hasset (caution), 18’
NZL – Ali Riley (caution), 30’
NZL – Ria Percival (caution), 64’