By Michael Lewis
A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
U.S. women rout New Zealand, get easier path to the gold-medal match
Shenyang, China -- The U.S. women forged a clear path through to the Olympic gold-medal match Tuesday night.
|Amy Rodriguez, who scored the second U.S. goal against New Zealand, cuts around defender Rebecca Smith during Tuesday’s 4-0 Olympic win.
Photo by Tony Quinn
The stars certainly were aligned in the right order for the Americans as they got results they desperately needed to avoid always-dangerous Brazil in the Olympic quarterfinals.
Instead, they will play long-time CONCACAF archrival Canada after scoring a resounding 4-0 Group G victory over New Zealand. Coupled with Japan's surprising 5-1 triumph over Norway in a game played at the same time, the U.S. can breathe easier after winning the group on goal differential over the European side (plus three to minus one).
Had the results not gone the Americans' way, they would have played Brazil, which embarrassed and eliminated the U.S. in last year's Women's World Cup semifinals, 4-0.
They will not meet the Brazilians until the gold-medal match in Beijing Aug. 21, if both sides survive their next two matches.
Now, the Americans' sights are on Canada, whom they play in Shanghai Friday.
"We know them very well and they know us very well," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "Whoever can get that Olympic spirit . . . and play good soccer will win the game."
Last night's game climaxed a rollercoaster week of emotions. The Americans began the tournament in the worst possible way, surrendering goals in the opening four minutes into a disappointing 2-0 loss to Norway, including one after an Olympic record 61 seconds. They rebounded with a solid effort in a 1-0 win over Japan before Heather O'Reilly started things off with an even faster goal after 40 seconds.
New Zealand coach John Herdman felt the Americans' confidence was on the rise.
"I don't know if its gold-medal worthy," he said. "It's going to be a tough tournament. It's all about confidence at this stage. They had a dent in their confidence against Norway. New Zealand is a resolute team. That [the four-goal victory] would sent a message out tonight. They have a good shot."
The U.S. bench was well aware of the Japan-Norway updates, but Sundhage never told her team of the score until the end of its contest.
O'Reilly stunned the crowd and New Zealand with the fastest goal in women's Olympic history. After gathering a loose ball at midfield and noticing goalkeeper Jenny Bindon out of the net, O'Reilly lofted a 35-yard shot over the keeper and into the net 40 seconds into the match.
"Getting up that early in the game was an awesome shot in the arm for us," said forward Amy Rodriguez, who scored the Americans' second goal in the 43rd minute. "It also was a calming effect."
O'Reilly was not immediately available to the media because she, along with midfielder Shannon Boxx, was undergoing a drug test.
Midfielder Lindsay Tarpley had a close encounter with the woodwork in the 15th minute. She made her way past defender Ria Percival on the left wing and fired a shot that bounded off the left post and out of bounds.
While the Americans had a number of shots toward goal the rest of the half, they could not get any decent attempts off on net to pad their lead.
In fact, the game got so boring midway through the half that the crowd started chanting, "China! China! China!"
China played Argentina in its final group match in Qinhuangdao at the same time.
Trying to duplicate O'Reilly's long-range goal, New Zealand midfielder Katie Hoyle hoped to catch U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo napping in the 37th minute. But Solo wasn't too far from home and Hoyle's 30-yard try sailed over the net.
Rodriguez woke up the crowd with her first Olympic goal in the 43rd minute. Defender Rachel Buehler sent a long ball down the left side that the Southern California junior caught up to. She then fired a left-footed shot from 16 yards into the lower right corner for a 2-0 advantage.
Buehler, who played seven minutes against Japan, replaced Kate Markgraf in the U.S. starting lineup. Markgraf was feeling under the weather, according to a team spokesman, although she could have played if needed. With the quarterfinals looming, Sundhage figured it was better to rest Markgraf at this juncture.
Tarpley lifted the Americans into a 3-0 lead in the 56th minute, the goal that actually propelled them from second to first place in the group. O'Reilly's close-range shot was blocked. The rebound went to Tarpley and she volleyed it home from 15 yards with Bindon out of the net.
Four minutes later, Angela Hucles gave the U.S. some breathing room and a four-goal advantage. Lori Chalupny blasted a shot from the left edge of the penalty area that richocheted off the crossbar to Hucles, who put it home for her first Olympic score.