U.S. women start Olympics with easy clean sheet over New Zealand.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, August 3, 2016) -- The United States women won their opening Group G match at the Summer Olympics 2-0 over an outmatched New Zealand before a sparse crowd of 9,556, which rattled around in the 65,000-seat Mineirão Stadium tonight in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
The U.S. used an early goal in each half to coast to a relatively easy 2-0 victory to open their quest for a record fourth consecutive gold medal.
The U.S. next meets France Saturday in Belo Horizonte at 4 p.m. (ET), televised by NBC Sports Channel. It likely will be a more open match and the key game in Group G. France pounded Colombia 4-0 in today's other opener.
After a bit of of a New Zealand spurt to open play, the Americans had taken control of the match by the fifth minute. In the ninth minute, midfielder Carli Lloyd tallied her seventh Olympic goal, getting onto a cross by midfielder Tobin Heath. Lloyd headed into the left corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
As the U.S. controlled play to start the second half, striker Alex Morgan took a quick pass from midfielder Morgan Brian in the Kiwis' penalty area. Morgan controlled and sent a low shot between goalkeeper Erin Nayler's and beat her cleanly for a 2-0 advantage.
New Zealand came out intending to throw off the U.S. with very physical play with 16 fouls called on the Kiwis by referee Kateryna Monzul, who officiated in last year's Women'sWorld Cup final. Whenever, the U.S. moved the ball forward, New Zealand had nine or 10 players behind the ball, requiring the Americans to try to break down a packed-in defense.
The second U.S. goal to start the second half forced the Kiwis do more offensively then hope for a counter or set play. The U.S. should have been able to do a bit better over the final half hour or so, but it appeared the Americans were more than satisfied with a two-goal opening triumph. New Zealand still did not want to throw its goal differential further into the negative by giving up a third goal.
The way this Olympic competition is set up is that the top two finishers in each of the three groups will move into the quarterfinals along with two of the top-three third-place finishers. In other words, group play will eliminate only four teams -- the last place finishers in each group and the lowest ranked third place finisher. This makes for some very conservative opening round matches and, to an extent, this was one of them.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Hope Solo - 6.5: As is often the case, Solo had very little to do as the U.S. prevented any serious shots on its goal. She did have to play under constant taunts and boos and chants of "Zika!" whenever she touched the ball in the second half. This was a reference to Solo's stance that she might not make the trip due to the possibility of infection and then appeared in social media posts in which she posed with various anti-mosquito products.
Defender Meghan Klingenberg - 6.5: Controlled play on her side of the field while managing to push forward on offense a number of times. On defense, she pushed into the midfield to break up New Zealand passing. On attack, she sent in several good crosses.
Defender Becky Sauerbrunn - 7.5: She led a team defense that blanketed the Kiwis all night. She constantly neutralized striker Amber Hearn, while linking passes from the back to U.S. players in the midfield.
Defender Julie Johnston - 6.5: She worked hard to give New Zealand little in the way of offense. On several occasions, got back very quickly to clear balls played over the top.
Defender Kelley O'Hara - 6.5: In an interesting match-up, she marked her former Stanford teammate and good friend Ali Riley right out of the match. She too was able to move forward and with a bit of better finishing by teammates, one of several of her crosses should have been put into the net.
Midfielder Allie Long - 5: She had a high work rate and played solid defense. She made a few errors when most of her teammates were almost error-free.
Midfielder Morgan Brian - 6.5: Her sharp pass set up second goal. She covered a lot of ground moving well side-to-side. She looked a bit tired before she was replaced after 64 minutes.
Midfielder Tobin Heath - 7: She gave the Kiwis' defense fits. Her header created the first goal and she had several near misses of her own. A small criticism was she could have finished better.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 7: She got the U.S. off to a flying start with her early goal. She had a number of good chances that, with a bit of luck, would have given her a second goal. She repeatedly took on opponents and caused all kinds of problems. She was a key player in an easy victory..
Forward Mallory Pugh - 6: One certainly could not tell her youth and inexperience by her play. On several occasions, she beat defenders on the dribble and perhaps was too quick to pass. She took a knock early in the second half and was less efficient afterward, coming out shortly thereafter.
Forward Alex Morgan - 6.5: Her hard shot inside the post to start the second half put the match out of reach for New Zealand. She used pace to beat defenders in the box several times and was unlucky not to have scored again or assisted on a U.S. goal.
Forward Crystal Dunn (51st minute for Pugh) - 6.5: She made a good argument that maybe she should have started and was a major problem for New Zealand. She also was able to get back and play defense when the Kiwis pushed forward.
Midfielder Lindsey Horan (64th minute for Brian) - 6: She layed as a holding midfielder and was quite effective in that role. She held the ball and played off to attackers but, most of all, kept it out of Kiwis' hands.
Midfielder Christen Press (81st minute for Morgan) - no rating: In a relatively short appearance, she did make several good plays and helped keep the ball in the New Zealand end as the Kiwis frantically tried to attack..
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Becky Sauerbrunn.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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