The U.S. WNT opened its defense of the Olympic Gold Medal and its pursuit of the first ever World Cup/Olympic double with a convincing if uninspiring 2-0 win over New Zealand Wednesday night in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis elected to go with hamstrung duo Morgan Brian and Tobin Heath from the start against the White Ferns while selecting Allie Long over Lindsey Horan and leaving Crystal Dunn on the line in favor of 18-year-old sensation Mallory Pugh.
In truth it hardly mattered, any permutation of the U.S. roster that coach Jill Ellis selected would have been too much for New Zealand who were far less competitive with the World Cup Champions than the scoreline might indicate.
Goals early in each half, first from FIFA World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd and then from Alex Morgan would be all the offense that the Yanks would need on a night that there was only ever going to be one winner.
Heath was instrumental in both U.S. goals, serving up a perfect ball for Lloyd to head home for the first American goal in the ninth minute, and then feeding Morgan Brian who assisted on Morgan’s insurance tally in the 46th minute.
With Lloyd’s opener on the board the three-time defending Gold Medal champions looked set for a rout, instead, the U.S. struggled to create dangerous chances and New Zealand had to be pleased as they headed to the locker room down by just that single goal.
If that ability to keep the Yanks off the board for the final 36 minutes of the first half had imbued New Zealand with hope, that hope was squashed moments into the second half by Morgan’s near post blast past White Ferns keeper Erin Nayler.
American keeper Hope Solo set herself up for the villain role when she expressed concerns over the Zika Virus prior to the Olympics but the U.S. number 1 was as unfazed by the hostile reception from the Brazilian fans as she was by the New Zealand attack.
The 2-0 final score hardly reflected the dominance of the Yanks but Ellis will know that Wednesday’s effort will not be good enough when her team faces France on Saturday afternoon.
Certainly not if Les Bleus can recreate the form that led to its 4-0 opening round win over Colombia in the night’s other opening round match in Group G.
In Group E home team Brazil gave its fans something to cheer about with its 3-0 victory over China while former United States coach Pia Sundhage led Sweden past South Africa by the barest of margins in a 1-0 win.
Group F action featured goals early and often with Canada’s Janine Beckie taking care of the early and Germany taking responsibility for often. A steal by Canadian legend Christine Sinclair set Beckie in for the fastest goal in Olympic history just 20 seconds into the match while Germany supplied the often in a 6-1 rout of Zimbabwe.
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
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
NZL -Betsy Hassett (caution) 18th minute
NZL – Ali Riley (caution) 30
NZL – Ria Percival (caution) 64