Fri, Aug 3rd 2012, 16:43
The U.S. Women’s National Team downed New Zealand 2-0 in the quarterfinal round of the 2012 Olympics as Abby Wambach scored in the first half and the USA’s youngest player – forward Sydney Leroux – tallied a clinching goal in the 87th minute.
The win kept the USA’s record intact of advancing to the semifinals of all five Olympic Games in which women’s soccer has been contested. The USA has also advanced to the semifinals of all six FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments.
In the semifinal on Monday, Aug. 6, at Old Trafford in Manchester, the USA will face the winner of the Canada vs. Great Britain quarterfinal. The match will kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET and can be watched live on the NBC Sports Network and NBC Olympic Soccer Channel. The USA, which is vying for its fourth Olympic gold medal and third in a row, will also be playing the 500th international match in its history on Monday. Following the victory against New Zealand, the U.S. WNT improved to 388-57-54 in 499 games.
“It’s a winning team, so they’ve been living with the pressure,” said U.S. WNT head coach Pia Sundhage. “I just look at the team and it feels like they perform under pressure. They like the pressure. The harder it is, the more you get out of the team.”
Wambach’s game-winning goal in the 27th minute marked her fourth in as many matches and gave her eight career Olympic goals. Wambach now has 142 goals in her international career. Leroux, making just her third Olympic appearance off the bench, tallied her first career goal in a senior world championship and the eighth of her international career. Alex Morgan notched her third assist in this year’s Olympic Games, providing the service on Wambach’s goal in the 27th minute.
Morgan sprinted to the left corner to run down a long ball from Rachel Buehler and then beat New Zealand captain Rebecca Smith to the inside before smacking her shot towards the net. Wambach stayed just onside and snuck behind Abby Erceg to redirect a right-footed shot into the net from close range.
Morgan had her fair share of chances throughout the match, including the game’s first big opportunity in the 10th minute when she found herself one-on-one against New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon. U.S. left back Kelley O’Hara sent the ball forward and Erceg had a poor touch on the ball allowing it to skip through. Morgan easily eluded the on-rushing Bindon with a dribble to the left, but had a sharp angle to shoot. She rolled her left-footed shot across the face of the open net but it skidded just wide of the right post.
The USA was back in the attack six minutes later when an excellent U.S. build-up got midfielder Megan Rapinoe behind the defense down the right wing. Her driven cross on the ground just eluded the sliding Morgan at the near post, but rolled to the far post where Wambach smacked it wide left of the goal from close range.
Morgan was equally as dangerous in the second half and just three minutes after the restart she got past Erceg down the right side only to slice her shot into the side netting at the right post. Seconds later, Tobin Heath sent the ball into the box where Morgan and Smith collided, sending Morgan to the ground, but no penalty was awarded.
The oddest point in a strangely officiated match came in the 73rd minute when Morgan got free behind the New Zealand defense on a Carli Lloyd pass straight up the middle. Bindon came out of the penalty area to challenge as Morgan touched the ball around her. The two collided with Morgan’s knee smacking Bindon in the face, causing Morgan to go sprawling to the turf. Amazingly no foul was called on the play even though Bindon was the last defender, and instead, after a brief delay when both Bindon and Morgan were treated for the knocks, Argentinean referee Jesica Di Iorio restarted play with a drop-ball.
Leroux came into the match with 10 minutes remaining and certainly made the most of her limited action, running at the New Zealand defense with speed and power, both which helped create the clinching goal. The goal came when Heath sent a pass down the left wing to Leroux, who fought off New Zealand’s Smith on the left side of the box and then cut hard toward goal. She shot hard and low from a stiff angle on the left, sending her shot through Bindon’s legs and into the net. Leroux soaked in the thrill of the moment with a memorable celebration and the look on her face was equal parts excitement and disbelief as her teammates embraced her.
New Zealand’s offense relied mostly on long-range attempts, putting four shots on goal compared to the USA’s eight. Solo was solid in the nets, cleanly and securely holding any of New Zealand’s shots from distance that were put on frame. Solo posted her 10th shutout of 2012 and the 65th clean sheet of her international career.