A Look Back At The USWNT Olympic Victory

USA win

 by TOM SLATER

For starters, it hit all the right notes.

With a 2-0 win over New Zealand, the United States got off on the right foot in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan showed they were suffering no ill effects of nagging injuries suffered during the lead-up to the Olympics. Both supplied the goals for the Americans. Lloyd scored early in the first half and Morgan blasted a shot seconds into the second half for all the scoring that was needed.

Lloyd scored in the 9th minute. Tobin Heath picked up a rebound of her own free kick on the left side and double pumped three New Zealand defenders and froze them. She cut once and sent a perfect ball across the goal to Lloyd. She headed the ball falling away into the far post. The goal was her 10th of 2016 and 89th international goal.

Morgan doubled the lead in the opening seconds of the second half. Allie Long, also making her Olympic debut, sent in a ball to Morgan Brian, who performed a quick one-two with Heath and found Morgan on the left side of the goal. Morgan blasted a shot low, beating Nayler to the near post. It was her 12th goal of the year and 68th international strike.

The win gave the Americans three points and put them atop of the Group G table after one day. That sets up the match-up with France on Saturday. The French squad tore apart Colombia, 4-0, and didn’t break a sweat doing it.

But more about that later.

Here’s what we learned from the win over New Zealand:

Tobin Heath was technically and tactically very dangerous: The outside midfielder has been lost with all the discussion about who was going to play in the middle of the field. But the 28-year-old from New Jersey put her stamp on last night’s victory early and often.  In short, she was the best player on the pitch. Her touch was flawless. Her ability to the turn one-touch change of directions into accurate serves made the United States a danger to score every time she touched the ball. Her stutter-step, pump-fake to set up the first goal was classic. It should be a Top 10 highlight. Sitting a dozen yards outside the box, Heath drew back her right foot like she was launch a great serve and froze two New Zealand players, one going to the  ground. With a quick out-step, she gave herself separation to serve to the far corner of six where Lloyd did the rest with her head.

Mallory Pugh had a rough first game:  The teenage sensation wowed everybody in Olympic Qualifying with her speed, her creativeness and toughness. She gave the United States a new weapon, a different look as Jill Ellis was transitioning the roster from last year’s World Cup team. New Zealand went to the body on the Americans, trying to play physical. Pugh, the youngest American to start an Olympic match, pulled up lame in the first half, spending some time on the sidelines before re-entering the match. She went just six minutes into the second half before Crystal Dunn replaced her. Don’t be surprised if Dunn gets the nod against France.

The US looked very good: Once they had the 2-0 lead, the United States played very smart. They used their three subs to get Dunn, Christen Press and Lindsey Horan their first Olympic action. They possessed very well at times, spreading the field and setting the tempo. Their possession was thoughtful, they didn’t try to force things and it did end up in a few more opportunities. Anyone who watched the match should have been secure in that New Zealand was never going to score.  This kind of possession will be needed Saturday.

Next: The U.S. WNT returns to action in Group G play Saturday against France at Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte(4 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NBC Universo).

Scoring Summary:   1          2          F
USA                            1          1          2
NZL                             0          0          0

USA – Carli Lloyd (Tobin Heath)                                 9th minute
USA – Alex Morgan (Morgan Brian)                           46

Lineups:
USA: 1-Hope Solo; 5-Kelley O’Hara, 8-Julie Johnston, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 7-Meghan Klingenberg; 3-Allie Long, 14-Morgan Brian (9-Lindsey Horan, 64), 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.); 2-Mallory Pugh (16-Crystal Dunn, 51), 13-Alex Morgan (12-Christen Press, 81), 17-Tobin Heath
Subs not used:
6-Whitney Engen, 11-Ali Krieger, 15-Megan Rapinoe, 18-Alyssa Naeher
Head Coach: Jill Ellis

NZL: 1-Erin Nayler; 2-Ria Percival, 6-Rebekah Stott, 5-Abby Erceg (capt.), 7-Ali Riley; 14-Katie Bowen (10-Sarah Gregorius, 60), 16-Annalie Longo, 4-Katie Duncan (11-Kristy Yallop, 72), 12-Betsy Hassett; 9-Amber Hearn, 17-Hannah Wilkinson (8-Jasmine Pereira, 83)
Subs not used: 3-Anna Green, 13-Rosie White, 15-Meikayla Moore, 18-Rebecca Rolls
Head Coach: Tony Readings

Stats Summary: USA / NZL
Shots: 12 / 4
Shots on Goal: 6 / 1
Saves: 1 / 4
Corner Kicks: 4 / 4
Fouls: 10 / 16
Offside: 4 / 4

Misconduct Summary:
NZL – Betsy Hassett (caution)            18th minute
NZL – Ali Riley (caution)                     30
NZL – Ria Percival (caution)               64