Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By CAITLIN MURRAY
It was a rough start for the U.S. Women’s National Team Thursday night — they went into the locker room up 1-0 from an own goal over a Russian team they had beat 7-0 just five days earlier. But whatever halftime speech coach Tom Sermanni gave worked and the USWNT came roaring back for a 8-0 finish in Atlanta.
It was truly a team effort with goals coming from Amy Rodriguez, Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe, Lauren Holiday, Heather O’Reilly and Christen Press all in the second half. Russia opened the scoring on two own goals in the 11th and 50th minutes.
“We talked about a couple little things at halftime,” Sermanni said of the U.S. going the first 45 without generating a goal. “We felt we could have stretched the Russians a little bit more and looked to try to play in behind them. We started to do that in the second half.”
“What helped us is getting those two early goals. That really made the difference. If it was still 1-0 after 60 minutes it would have been a tight game, but as soon as we scored [in the second half] that changed the game.”
In the 52nd, Rodriguez volleyed a swift strike past the keeper off a cross by O’Reilly. Two minutes later, an unmarked Wambach tapped an easy goal into the net off a Rapinoe cross. In the 65th, it was an odd deflection off Rapinoe’s head that earned her a goal off a shot fired by Morgan Brian.
In the final 10 minutes, the USWNT really turned it up, scoring three goals quickly. Holiday was brought down with a hard challenge in 81st and converted a penalty kick. Two minutes later, O’Reilly found space cutting through defenders near the net to finish a pass from Press. Shortly before the whistle, Press got one of her own, dribbling through traffic toward the center and pivoting for a blast into the upper left corner.
The match marked Rodriguez’s first start since giving birth in August and the return of hometown left back Kelley O’Hara, who had not worn the U.S. jersey since June as she recovered from ankle surgery.
“I’m so happy to be back just to be able to play my first game in Georgia in front of my family and friends,” O’Hara said. “It’s been a long road and I’m really happy right now.”
Russia was outmatched for the USWNT’s two-game set that started in Boca Raton, Fla. on Saturday. The overall goal differential for the two matches was a whopping 15-0 in favor of the Americans. Russia is ranked No. 21 in the world; the U.S. is ranked No. 1.
“We knew they were going to look at the film to see what we did to score seven goals on them and they kind of got us for the first 45 minutes,” Leroux said after Thursday’s match. “In the second we broke through, but I think we wanted to keep in stride and try to beat 7-0.”
The match extended the USWNT’s winning streak to 42 games (36-0-6) as they head into the Algarve Cup in March, where they will play a pair of the world’s top teams in Sweden and Japan.
Thursday’s match had been scheduled for Wednesday, but postponed due to a storm that hit the region hard. Still, more than 16,000 fans filled the Georgia Dome for the USWNT’s first-ever visit to Atlanta.
What did you think of the game? Ready for the USWNT to play some tougher opponents? What do you think Sermanni learned about his squad from the Russia set?