The United States women’s soccer team returned to its usual winning ways Saturday, notching a 6-1 victory against New Zealand in the Americans’ second group stage match at the Tokyo Olympics.
Head coach Vlatko Andonovki will hope it’s the start of a new winning streak after the USWNT’s 44-match unbeaten run was broken in sobering fashion with a 3-0 loss to Sweden in the Olympics opener.
Andonovski made five changes to his lineup for the meeting with the White Ferns, primarily to rest some of the squad’s veteran players for the three-day turn-around, but also likely to shake things up following the loss.
New Zealand attempted to take the fight to the World Cup champions early, drawing Alyssa Naeher into a save in the seventh minute.
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Tobin Heath and Rose Lavelle quickly put an end to all that. Playing direct out of the back, a Naeher goal kick found its way eventually to Heath with Lavelle committing to a dangerous run from midfield. Heath’s pass split the New Zealand defense and found Lavelle in front of goal.
Lavelle put her laces through the ball and slotted it in near-post past New Zealand goalkeeper Anna Leat for Team USA’s first goal of the Tokyo Olympics.
The U.S. hit the back of New Zealand’s net once more inside 15 minutes, but Carli Lloyd – getting the start at striker ahead of Alex Morgan – was ruled offside on her headed effort. Crystal Dunn met a similar fate on a would-be assist to Tobin Heath in the 28th minute. Megan Rapinoe rounded out the hattrick of disallowed U.S. goals at the 30-minute mark, though it was the assister Lloyd who was a half-yard offside again.
Minutes later, apparently eager to see the assistant referee raise her flag yet one more time, Lindsey Horan scored the team’s fourth goal from an offside position.
Eventually, though, the U.S. got the second goal to stick before halftime. Julie Ertz headed a corner kick back across the face of goal where Horan finished it off, commemorating her 100th cap with the national team in style.
Slightly less style was on display for the Americans’ third goal when New Zealand defender Abby Erceg headed an attempted clearance into her own net after the hour mark. Though classy late goals by substitutes Christen Press and Alex Morgan gave the performance some much-needed luster. An egregious New Zealand own goal in the waning moments – the White Ferns’ second of the match – rounded out the six pack of American goals.
But the U.S. would not escape the match without reliving the kind of defensive lapse that was evident too often against Sweden. In the 72nd minute, against the run of play, New Zealand pulled a goal back when U.S. defender Abby Dahlkemper nearly whiffed on an attempted clearance, then tripped while attempting to recover. Kiwi midfielder Betsy Hassett took advantage, hammering home a pass from substitute Paige Satchell into the net vacated by Naeher.
The U.S. moved into second place in Group G of the women’s competition, leapfrogging Australia on goal difference after the Matildas became the latest team to fall to the Swedes earlier in the day. Should both Sweden and the U.S. advance out of the group in spots one and two, they would not meet again until, potentially, the gold medal game.
The U.S. faces Australia on Tuesday to close out the group stage.