August 2, 2012
By Michael Lewis
IT'S CRUNCH TIME
U.S. is ready to show what it does best -- win when it really counts
NEWCASTLE, England - Its crunch time in the Olympic women's soccer tournament.
|Alex Morgan: "We have a lot of confidence going into this match, but if we lose, we're done. This is a huge game for us. It's win or go home."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
And the team that has defined success during crunch time -- aka the knockout rounds -- is ready to demonstrate why it is still an international soccer force to be reckoned with.
In pursuit of its third consecutive gold medal and fourth overall in only five Summer Games, the United States will take New Zealand in the quarterfinals at St. James' Park on Friday.
No one has to remind the players what is at stake -- a spot in the medal round and pride, a lot of pride. After all, the Americans do not like to lose. Some people say they do not know how to lose, but they are mortal.
Lose in the quarterfinals and you lose a shot a medal, hanging around the Olympic Village and being apart of the closing ceremonies.
"We have a lot of confidence going into this match, but if we lose, we're done," striker Alex Morgan said. "This is a huge game for us. It's win or go home."
It's all about mental attitude.
"Now that we're in the playoffs, we know that if we don't play well, we go home," veteran midfielder Shannon Boxx said. "So the mentality has to be different. Itís all in and all out. That's the mentality of this team right now. The momentum kind of picks up."
Here's an intriguing statistic to remind you how successful the U.S. has been over the years:
In four previous Olympic tournaments, the Americans are 3-0-0 in the quarterfinals (there were no quarterfinals in 1996).
Including six Women's World Cups, the U.S. is an astounding 8-0-1. The lone tie was a 2-2 decision with Brazil in 2011 WWC quarterfinals, which the Americans won via penalty kicks, 5-2.
In all knockout matches in WWC and Olympic competition, incidentally, the U.S. is 21-4-3, which includes quarterfinals, semifinals, third-place matches and championship games.
The last time these two teams met, the U.S. emerged victorious in Frisco, Texas, 2-1, on Feb. 11. New Zealand grabbed a 1-0 lead on a U.S. mistake early in the second half, its lone shot on goal, before Morgan scored two goal goals, one in stoppage time.
Striker Abby Wambach said the U.S. "struggled" in that game.
"They are a good team, they are a physical team and they are a fit team," she said. "They're going to pose some challenges for us. I think if we can keep possession and play our style then we're going to be all right."
Coach Pia Sundhage said New Zealand has not changed all that much since February, calling the Kiwis "a team which is tough, strong and well organized in defense. And when they go, they go attacking."
"They are compact and play with a big heart. There will be some big tackles so the speed of our players is important. We need to find our rhythm."
And if worse comes to worse, and extratime and penalty kicks are needed, the Americans are prepared for the tie-breaker.
"We are ready if, in the worst case, it goes to PKs," Morgan said. "We've had a group of players taking penalties for a number of months. But it's taking them in a match under pressure which counts."
Playing under pressure is something the U.S. seems to thrive on, especially in the Olympics.