Sept. 29, 2002
UNIONDALE, N.Y. - The U.S. Women's National Team patiently broke down a skillful Russian team to register a dominating 5-1 victory in the opening game of the 2002 NIKE U.S. Women's Cup. The USA got stellar performances from Mia Hamm, who had two goals and an assist, and second half substitute Aly Wagner, who had two assists and a goal, to bury Russia with three goals in a five-minute span in the second half.
Russia is one of four European teams that have already qualified for the 2003 Women's World Cup in China.
"The good thing about a good team is that you can get better during the game," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "That's a good sign of our team and some of our individual players. If you step out on the field and things aren't going well, your number one job is to find ways to make it better and I thought we did that in the second half."
Although the Americans had a sluggish first half, two dynamic plays by Hamm got the U.S. to the break with a 2-0 lead. The USA only took three shots in the first 24 minutes, but scored in the 25th, on a penalty kick by Brandi Chastain after Hamm was cut down in the penalty box by Vera Stroukova after she skinned the Russian defender.
The USA had a couple of close calls in the next two minutes, as Julie Foudy had a shot cleared off the goal line and Abby Wambach sent a dangerous header bouncing to the goal that was saved by Tatiana Pitchougova, but it was Hamm who got the U.S. its second goal in the 31st minute. Kristine Lilly won a tackle on the left wing and drove to end line before she sending a floating cross to the far post. Hamm flew towards the end line to save the ball with a flicked header, athletically looping the ball over Pitchougova. It bounced almost on the goal line and Parlow darted in bravely to head the ball into the back of the net from close range.
It was Parlow's 50th international goal, becoming the sixth U.S. player to score 50 or more goals in her career. Ironically, Parlow's first goal was also against Russia, back in 1996 in her first cap for the national team.
Heinrichs made three substitutes at halftime, sending on Lorrie Fair, Angela Hucles and Aly Wagner, and put in 17-year-old Heather O'Reilly in the 39th minute, with all four helping to spark the USA in the second half, particularly Wagner, a senior at Santa Clara University, whose deft touches in the midfield and superb final pass blew the game open.
A skillful Russia team did a decent job possessing the ball, which took a bit of the bite out of the U.S. attack, but Wagner and Hamm combined on two splendid goals in the 59th and 63rd minutes to ice the game.
The first came when Wagner crafted a superior pass to Hamm inside the penalty area, slipping the ball behind several defenders from an intricate angle. The ball looked as if it was going to run out of bounds past the left post, but at the last moment, Hamm reached it and whipped a lighting-quick shot at the near post that surprised Pitchougova and slammed into the net.
The two combined again four minutes later as Wagner was given space to turn in the midfield and played a perfect through ball to Hamm, who was making a diagonal run into the box. The run and the pass were so perfect that Hamm had time to collect the ball, collect herself and slot her shot into the right corner. Hamm, the Chevrolet Women of the Match, upped her international goal total to 135. The goals also were her 25th and 26th in the 22 NIKE U.S. Women's Cup games over nine tournaments.
"Mia makes great runs," said Wagner. "She's such an awesome player, she's dynamic and the defenses just can't stay with her. She slices and dices through that back line and it's easy to put the ball in her path. Plus, she's a great finisher so she's going to finish the chances she gets."
Hamm almost got another in the 55th minute as she snapped a header on goal off a Foudy cross, but Pitchougova made a brilliant save, turning the ball outside the net with a fine reaction save before falling into the goal.
Wagner added the last goal herself, hitting a solid header off a Kate Sobrero cross from the right wing over Pitchougova and into the net. For Wagner, who joined the team yesterday after attending school all week at Santa Clara, it was her 7th international goal in her 26th game for the USA. For Sobrero, it was just her third point in 77 international matches.
"We're seeing some qualities in Aly that make her a world class player," said Heinrichs. "She has the ability to change the point of attack and has great composure in her possession and her decision making with the ball. She also has the ability to find her teammates and put the ball on their feet. She makes it look so easy and what she is doing is one of the most difficult aspects of soccer."
Goalkeeper Briana Scurry, who had her national team career derailed for almost two years by lack of fitness and injuries, got her first start since Aug. 16, 2000, which ironically was also against Russia. It was Scurry's first win since October 10, 1999. Defender Danielle Slaton also got the start after missing the USA's last two matches with a nagging injury.
O'Reilly, a high school senior at East Brunswick in New Jersey, earned her 5th cap and played well at striker, paired with both Hamm and Shannon MacMillan during the match. One of the stars of the USA's Under-19 Women's World Championship team, she hit the crossbar in the waning minutes and was denied her first international goal.
Russia got its goal in the 84th minute as referee Rachel Woo ruled that Joy Fawcett had fouled Natalia Barbachina in the penalty box. Barbarchina took the kick herself, slotting her shot into the left corner as Scurry went the other way.
"I was concerned with our mental preparation with this game," said Heinrichs. "It didn't seem like we were totally prepared to step on the field against a team in the World Cup. Quite a few of our players didn't prepare properly for this game and what you saw was a lot of carelessness out there."
The USA will travel to North Carolina tomorrow in preparation for their next two matches in the 2002 NIKE U.S. Women's Cup. The USA will face Australia on Oct. 2 at the SAS Stadium in Cary, N.C. with the kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET live on ESPN2, and then finish its tournament on Oct. 6 against Italy, also, at SAS Stadium, with the match kicking off at 2:00 p.m. ET live on ESPN2.