American soccer fans searching for some good news after this week’s double dose of disappointment from the senior men’s squad had to look far and wide for that solace, all the way to Papua, New Guinea in fact, where the U.S. topped New Zealand 3-1 in its second match of the U20 Women’s World Cup.
Led by 18-year-old Olympian Mallory Pugh the young Americans were looking to improve on a poor performance in Monday’s scoreless draw versus France, a point New Zealand learned right from the opening whistle.
Fullback Ellie Jean set the tone with a dangerous cross off of her run to the end line to put the nascent Football Ferns on notice. With U.S. attackers swarming New Zealand’s defenders it was clear that the coach Michelle French was keen to avoid a repeat of her team’s passive effort against the French, irrespective of the quality gap between the two opponents.
17-year-old Ashley Sanchez continued her accelerated climb through the U.S. WNT ranks becoming the first U.S. woman to score in the U17 and U20 World Cup in the same year when she opened the U.S. account after just 2:30.
The tenacious forward stripped a New Zealand defender before coolly sliding her shot past Nadia Olla in the New Zealand goal. Just about five minutes later U.S. captain Pugh intercepted a sloppy New Zealand clearance, ran through the Ferns defense and fired an exquisite strike into the top corner of Olla’s net to make it a 2-0 game.
It looked as if the rout was on but New Zealand slowly crept back into the game with a missed volley from Pugh allowing New Zealand to escape to the dressing room trailing just 2-0 when it might well have been more.
The U.S. continued to have most of the play as the second half resumed and were denied a sure fire penalty when Pugh was dragged down but New Zealand, playing in front of friendly crowd as Oceania champions, never gave in and got their reward in the 76th minute when Isabella Coombes halved the U.S. advantage with a shot from distance after the U.S. failed to clear following a New Zealand corner.
Lifted by that goal and the crowd -chanting New Zealand! New Zealand! – The Ferns pressed for the equalizer. French responded by inserting Ally Watt in the 79th minute and the coach did not have to wait long to receive validation for that change.
Watt was sent in on goal by fellow sub-Jessica Scarpa who hit Watt in stride with her pass behind the New Zealand defense. Watt made no mistake with her chance blasting her shot beyond Olla to restore the two-goal advantage, essentially ending this match as a contest.
The win, coupled with Ghana’s surprise 2-2 draw with France, with France needing a late goal for the tie, puts the U.S. on top of its group with four points. New Zealand follows with three, France has two and Ghana trail with a single point.
The Young Yanks face Ghana next Monday in its last Group C match (1 a.m. ET on FS1 and NBC Universo), with New Zealand going against France at the same time.
The Americans are now in a strong position to advance to the quarterfinals, going through with a win or draw against Ghana. Even a 1-0 loss would do for the U.S. regardless of the France vs. New Zealand result.
Papua, New Guinea is a long way from Columbus and San Jose, Costa Rica and the drama surrounding the Men’s National Team has yet to be played out, but U.S. fans can take some hope in the performance of Mallory Pugh, Ashley Sanchez and the rest of the U20 Women’s team as they chase a World Championship in the early morning hours over the coming weeks.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 2 1 3
NZL 0 1 1
USA – Ashley Sanchez 3rd minute
USA – Mallory Pugh 8
NZL – Isabella Coombes 76
USA – Ally Watt (Jessie Scarpa) 82
USA: 1-Casey Murphy; 5-Madeline Elliston, 6-Taylor Otto, 3-Kaleigh Riehl, 14-Ellie Jean; 16-Emily Fox (11-Ally Watt, 79), 10-Emily Ogle, 20-Katie Cousins, 7-Savannah DeMelo (15-Jessie Scarpa, 57), 9-Mallory Pugh (capt.) (19-Natalie Jacobs, 90); 18-Ashley Sanchez
Subs Not Used: 2-Parker Roberts, 4-Sabrina Flores, 8-Courtney Petersen, 12-Rose Chandler, 13-Marley Canales, 17-Kelcie Hedge, 21-Brooke Heinsohn
Head Coach: Michelle French
NZL: 21-Nadia Olla; 2-Sarah Morton, 3-Sophie Stewart-Hobbs, 4-Elizabeth Anton, 6-Meikayla Moore (capt.); 7-Isabella Coombes, 10-Daisy Cleverley, 18-Grace Jale (16-Tayla Christensen, 69); 8-Jasmine Pereira, 9-Martine Puketapu (11-Emma Rolston, 80), 13-Paige Satchell (19-Jacqui Hand, 87)
Subs Not Used: 1-Tessa Nicol, 5-Samantha Murrell, 12-Malia Steinmetz, 14-Jade Parris, 15-Hannah Blake, 17-Eileish Hayes, 20-Emily Couchman
Head Coach: Leon Birnie
Stats Summary: USA / NZL
Shots: 13 / 5
Shots on Goal: 4 / 2
Saves: 1 / 3
Corner Kicks: 12 / 2
Fouls: 10 / 4
Offside: 2 / 0