August 3, 2004

Wagner Scores for U.S. in Olympic Send-Off

Aug. 2, 2004

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - The U.S. Women's National Team put together a sparkling performance in its final match before the 2004 Olympics, defeating China 3-1 through goals by Aly Wagner, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach in front of 15,093 fans at Rentschler Field, marking the largest crowd the U.S. WNT has drawn in the state of Connecticut. "I am really pleased, it could not have gone better," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "Everybody played well. I liked the way we attacked and went at China with courage and confidence. Obviously, we have great respect for them, so when you can play aggressively and with that kind of confidence against a team that is as strong as China, it's a really good sign moving forward." In one of the most physical "friendlies" of the year, the match produced nine yellow cards between the two rivals, five for China and four for the USA, an uncommonly high number for a U.S. Women's National Team match, despite the fact that just 15 fouls were called over the 90 minutes. "I think it was just two technical teams out there," said Hamm of the tough, but well-played match. "One of the things we respect so much about China is how clean they are technically and how athletic they are. You have to commit to tackle sometimes, and when they're as skilled as they are, they slip your tackles and that leads to contact. But at the same time, I don't think it was anything dirty. There was no malicious intent involved, just two teams playing hard." On a beautiful, but hot day, the Americans showed their aggression early as midfielder Shannon Boxx fired a shot high over the goal just 10 seconds into the match. The USA scored both first-half goals on counter-attacks, the first coming in the 14th minute after a series of passes in the China box that started with Wambach finding Foudy on the right flank. The U.S. captain whipped in a hard cross on the ground to Hamm in the center of the box, where she expertly flicked the ball with the outside of her right foot back to an onrushing Wagner, who struck a first-time left-footed shot from the penalty spot off the underside of the cross bar and down into the net for her 15th career goal. China came right back in the 16th minute and had a great chance to equalize as some good ball movement left Han Duan open in the left side of the penalty area. U.S. 'keeper Briana Scurry was there to stop Han's close-range shot, but it spun off her hands and was going to drop into the right corner of the net before defender Cat Reddick cleared it off the goal line with her left foot. Wambach was involved in the next three good chances for the U.S. across a five-minute span, starting in the 28th minute when she penetrated straight up the middle on the dribble on a counter-attack, drew the defense and played it out wide left to Hamm, who took a touch before hammering a shot that was pushed away by Chinese goalkeeper Xiao Zhen. Wambach made another solo run two minutes later, tracking down a long ball and dribbling across the top of the penalty area before striking a shot wide right while falling away. The 5-foot-11 forward finally helped the U.S. get a well-deserved second goal in the 33rd minute, beating the Chinese offensive trap to a perfect long ball from defender Christie Rampone and raced in on goal. Xiao came all the way out of the penalty area to challenge, but Wambach cut a square pass to a streaking Hamm, who quickly took an excellent settling touch and then pounded the ball into the open net from 12 yards out just ahead of a sliding Chinese defender. It was Hamm's world-record 151st international goal. China had a similar opportunity to score in the 41st minute, with Han tracking down a ball that was looped over the U.S. back line, but Scurry came out to challenge and closed down the space, forcing the speedy Han to rush her shot and hit it off the outside of the left post. The U.S. had one last chance before halftime to make it 3-0 when Rampone whipped in a cross from the right side to Wagner, who came slicing through the box and did well to send a sliding volley on goal, but it bounced easily into the hands of Xiao. China pulled a goal back just four minutes into the second half that started off a free kick from right side. Scurry got a hand on the ball with a punch, but it fell dangerously to Han on the left side of the six-yard box. She quickly chipped a short pass over the head of Scurry and two U.S. defenders to the far post for Fan Yunjie, whose toe-poke beat the lunging Foudy and she tapped the ball into the net from a yard out. Perhaps still groggy from taking an elbow to the head while challenging for a cross seconds earlier, Wambach missed a golden opportunity in the 53rd minute. After a great bit of dribbling and cross from Kristine Lilly on the left flank, Wambach found the ball at her feet almost in the middle of the box with the 'keeper to beat but couldn't get a shot off before she was closed down. Wambach did find her team-leading 14th goal in the 69th minute as a corner kick from Mia Hamm flew over leaping Chinese defender Li Jie and the U.S. forward snapped a spinning a header over Xiao and into the left corner. The 24-year-old star now has an impressive 28 goals in 40 career games with the U.S. Women's National Team. With the win the USA moved to 15-1-2 in 2004 and finished its six-game "Quest for Summer Glory" tour with a 5-0-1 record. The U.S. Olympic Women's Soccer Team will depart for Athens tomorrow to begin its European preparations for its first match of the Olympics against host Greece on August 11 in Heraklio. "The preparations are done," said Lilly, a Wilton, Connecticut native who played with the USA in front of her home state fans for the first time since 1997. "Now it's just about fine-tuning, keeping the team's confidence up and resting for Greece and August 11."