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Oct. 20, 2007
U.S. women struggle to 1-1 tie with Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.– A tired and injury depleted United State’s Women’s National team could only manage a 1-1 tie with Mexico in front of 9,000 bi-partisan fans at University Stadium.

Monica Ocampo scored for Mexico in the 56th minute, before forward Heather O’Reilly tied the match six minutes later. The USA pushed for a winning goal while dominating the last 30 minutes, and had one goal disallowed for offside in stoppage time, but didn’t have enough gas in the tank left to create a winner. It was Mexico’s first tie against the USA in 22 matches between the teams.

The USA went down a goal 11 minutes into the second half on a Mexico counter attack as Ocampo drove into the penalty area on the right side, cut into the middle to make room for her shot and hit a skipping left-footer into the lower right corner from 14 yards out.

As in the first two matches of this series, the USA turned up the attacking pressure in the final third of the match. Starting in the 60th minute, the Americans earned three consecutive corner kicks, the first coming after Mexican goalkeeper Sophia Perez flew to push Carli Lloyd’s blast from 30 yards over the top. The USA almost scored on the ensuing corner kick, but Mexico managed to scramble the ball away. The USA had another chance off the next corner, but once again a Mexican defender lunged to clear the ball over the end line. Shannon Boxx headed the final corner kick over the crossbar.

The USA tied the game on an attack started through a nifty play by Lindsay Tarpley, who flicked a ball around a defender at midfield and then rushed toward the Mexico goal. She played Kai into the left side of the penalty area after the U.S. forward made a great run along the restraining line. Kai drove toward the net and committed Perez before sending a square pass across the goal mouth to the sprinting O’Reilly who finished with a slide at the far post.

“Natasha Kai started it off with her explosiveness, which is why she got in such a good position like that,” said O’Reilly. “You know if you work hard you are going to get rewarded, and that’s what I tried to do to get in the box. She played a very unselfish ball across.”

It was O’Reilly’s seventh goal of 2007, the most goals she scored in a calendar year in her six-year National Team career. It was her 15th career international goal.

“We got a little fatigued through this game, but I have to hand it to Mexico,” said O’Reilly. “In the other games, once we started getting goals we broke them as a team. In this game, once we scored they didn’t let up at all and played tough for the whole game. Their growth as a team showed tonight.”

The USA carried numerous injuries into the game and was forced to play a make-shift back line as defenders Christie Rampone, Tina Ellertson and Marian Dalmy were all out with injuries, while Stephanie Lopez was playing with her University of Portland college team today. Cat Whitehill was the only true defender playing on the back line with three midfielders. Leslie Osborne played next to Whitehill in the middle while Lori Chalupny and Angela Hucles played left and right back, respectively. Forward Abby Wambach, who sprained her ankle against Mexico in Portland last Wednesday, came off at halftime for Natasha Kai, and midfielder Aly Wagner had to leave the game with a sprained ankle in the 36th minute.

“It’s our third game in a row against Mexico and we’re tired right now,” said U.S. head coach Greg Ryan. “We’re exhausted from the World Cup, and I think that showed today. We didn’t have the kind of energy or the kind of rhythm that we normally have, and I think that’s normal after the kind of intense World Cup we experienced. To go down a goal and come back quickly, I’m proud of the players for mustering up the effort to get a goal back.”

Mexico managed 11 shots, their highest total over the three-game series, but most were from distance and did not trouble U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry. Mexico did produce a dangerous flurry in the USA’s penalty box in the 16th minute, and had a dangerous looking free-kick from Evelyn Lopez in the 19th minute that flew high from 30 yards out. Ocampo also popped free in the left side of the box on the cusp of halftime, but powered her shot into the side netting.

Kai gave the USA some offensive spark after coming on at halftime, getting behind the Mexican defense on the right side in 58th minute, but couldn’t find a player in the middle as her pass was cut off.

Perez spilled a Tarpley cross from the left in the 79th minute and Kai was almost able to punch the free ball into the net, but a sliding Mexican defender cleared the ball at the last second.

The USA had two dangerous free kicks in the waning seconds, including a shot from Kristine Lilly just before the final whistle, but Perez comfortably secured the shot to seal the draw.

The U.S. team ends 2007 with a 19-1-4 record with the only loss coming to Brazil in the semifinal of the 2007 Women’s World Cup when Ryan made the controversial decision to start Scurry in place of Hope Solo who had been the team’s regular starting goalkeeper.

While the 2008 schedule and the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the 2008 Olympics has yet to be finalized, the U.S. team will now have several months off before regrouping in January for the run to Beijing.

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