Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
Just three days removed from these two nations dueling it out in San Francisco, the U.S. Women’s National Team took on New Zealand once again on Wednesday night. This time however, the outcome wasn’t what they had hoped for.
Though the U.S. took a lead three minutes before the break through Sydney Leroux, the normally high-scoring squad couldn’t find another goal on the night and allowed New Zealand to come into the game and score a late equalizer, finishing as a 1-1 draw at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, in front of a crowd of 15,139.
“We really needed to score the second goal when we were dominating the game but we didn’t do that,” U.S. head coach Tom Sermanni told U.S. Soccer after the match. “At 1-0 there’s always a danger you’ll give something up and that’s what happened tonight. It’s a very tight game at times and a good lesson for us to learn about being able to keep a 1-0 lead and finish teams off.”
Due to an ankle injury suffered last week, Alex Morgan was unavailable to play as Sermanni chose to play a 4-3-3 formation with Abby Wambach up top flanked by Leroux on the left and Heather O’Reilly on the right. Yael Averbuch returned to the starting lineup in central midfield.
“We didn’t just change the lineup tonight, we changed the formation slightly,” Sermanni said. “It takes time and takes time for players to adjust to things. It’s a good time for us in the cycle because there’s stuff to work on.”
The Americans will feel that they missed a number of chances to score during the evening, starting in the 10th minute when New Zealand defender Ria Percival was whistled for a handball in the box. However, Wambach’s subsequent penalty kick was hit too close to the middle and Football Ferns goalkeeper Erin Nayler made a terrific save to keep the U.S. off the board.
It wasn’t until the 42nd minute that the U.S. found their breakthrough. Leroux received a pass along the left side of the field and turned inside, with plenty of space in front of her. Once Leroux found herself outside the box, she ripped a low drive across goal that Nayler couldn’t get a hand on, giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead late in the first half.
The goal was Leroux’s eighth in 2013, tying her with Christen Press for second place on the squad.
Even New Zealand changing goalkeepers at halftime didn’t change the fortunes of the U.S. squad, as Wambach was again denied on a header by substitute Jenny Bindon, one of two U.S.-born players on the Kiwis.
“We kind of wanted to pressure New Zealand and match up with them in midfield,” Sermanni said. “We wanted to dominate the game. We did at times but at other times we weren’t quick enough to transition when we won the ball or lost the ball.”
New Zealand finally earned their reward for their strong defensive work in the 87th minute. Defender Rebekah Stott drove through the center of the field unimpeded, playing Hannah Wilkinson into space before Wilkinson sent a looping drive over U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo’s head to tie the match.
The final result ends a ten-game winning streak for the U.S. over New Zealand. The draw did, however, extend the Americans’ 76-game home unbeaten streak.
“We expect to win games, particularly at home,” Sermanni said. “With a home crowd like this, we want to dominate games and we didn’t do that as well tonight as some of our games during the year.”
The U.S. return to action with a Nov. 10 match against Brazil in the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.