Aug. 6, 2008
By Michael Lewis
Early goals sink embarrassed U.S. women in Olympic opener in 2-0 loss to Norway
Qinhuangdao, China -- The U.S. Women's National Team could not have picked a worse time to play their worst game ever in the Olympic soccer tournament Wednesday night.
|A header by Leni Larsen Kaurin goes past U.S. defender Lori Chalupny and goalkeeper Hope Solo for Norway's first goal in their 2-0 win over the United States.
Photo by Tony Quinn
The Americans hardly looked like defending Olympic champions in a stunning 2-0 loss to Norway in its first game of the Beijing Games. The embarrassed Americans looked more like novices taking their first steps in the Summer Games.
Unfancied Norway inflicted the setback on the surprised U.S., taking advantage of a faulty American defense that was supposed to be the rock of this injury-riddled team. It was by far the poorest performance and worst Olympic result in the history of the team.
The Americans tasted defeat for only the second time in four Olympics, also losing to the Norwegians in the gold-medal match at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, 3-2. Now there are serious and logical questions as to whether the U.S. can reach the medal round, let alone vie for a gold again.
So, the U.S. faces a must-win situation in its next two games to reach the quarterfinals or go home humiliated. The Americans take on Japan and New Zealand in their next two matches.
It's certainly not an impossible task, but given Wednesday's lackluster performance, you have to wonder how much confidence the players have in themselves to go far in the tournament, which kicked off two days prior to the opening ceremonies due to the length of the competition.
The U.S. is accustomed not only to winning, but to dictating the pace of games. They did neither before a crowd of 7,400 at the Qinhuandao Sports Centre Stadium.
The uninspired performance was defined by a team that looked slow, especially to the taller and more physical Norwegians, sloppy play and unforced errors and giveaways and indecisive at times.
The last three times these two teams played, the U.S. won by scores of 4-0 twice earlier this year and 4-1 in the third-place match at the 2007 Women's World Cup.
Actually, this U.S. team hasn't been accustomed to losing this year. Under new coach Pia Sundhage, the Americans were a near-perfect 20-0-1, tying only Canada, 1-1.
The setback broke new ground in a number of areas. The U.S. entered the match with a 12-1-3 mark at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Games and had never lost an opening-round match en route to a 7-0-2 record. It also was the first shutout loss suffered by the the U.S. at the Summer Games. They had played China to a scoreless tie in the opening round in 1996.
Playing their first competitive match without its injured star, Abby Wambach, who will miss the Summer Games with a broken left leg, the Americans looked rather tentative early on and they paid for that dearly.
Incredibly, the favored U.S. found itself trailing 2-0 to Norway with the match barely four minutes old, thanks to several defensive errors by the Americans.
The Norwegians surprising grabbed a one-goal advantage with the match only 61 seconds old. Forward Solveig Gulbrandsen sent in a left-wing cross into the middle of the penalty area. U.S. defender Lori Chalupny and Leni Larsen Kaurin both leapt after the ball while goalkeeper Hope Solo came out of the net. Kaurin got to the ball first and headed it in from eight yards, while punching Chalupny in the face as Solo failed to get a hand on the ball.
The Americans' defense continued to falter as Norway doubled its lead in the fourth minute. This time a couple of veteran defenders and leaders were the culprits on the goal as Melissa Wilk intercepted a Kate Markgraf pass. Wilk ran down the right wing with Christie Rampone trying in vain to catch up. As Solo came out to cut down the angle, Wilk fired a shot to the far left post that eluded the keeper and gave the underdogs a highly unlikely 2-0 bulge.
Apparently injured on the first goal, Chalupny was replaced by defender Stephanie Cox in the 16th minute.
The Americans played the first 10 minutes of the match without confidence, especially when it came time to defend.
They also showed little creativity and flair on attack and did not get off a quality shot toward the goal in the opening half. They prefered to take long-range attempts instead of trying to work the ball into the penalty area.
Trying desperately to instill more much-needed spark into the attack, Sundhage replaced midfielder Lindsay Tarpley with Southern California junior and forward Amy Rodriguez at halftime.