Lloyd and Morgan Score as U.S. Beats New Zealand 2-0
August 03, 2016
THE UNITED STATES women’s national team opened up Olympic play on Wednesday night with a 2-0 win over New Zealand in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
The Americans got off to a quick start in the contest, scoring in just the ninth minute of play when Carli Lloyd’s looping header dropped inside the back post. In the second half, the U.S. doubled its lead less than 60 seconds after the break when Alex Morgan beat New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler at her near post.
Here are three thoughts on the game.
MAKING THE MIDFIELD WORK
Jill Ellis had one surprise in hand for Wednesday’s match, starting Allie Long in the midfield instead of Lindsey Horan. The coach alluded to her midfield depth last month in Kansas City, but most still expected Horan to start once Morgan Brian returned from injury. A healthy Horan did not make the XI however.
Long’s route to the U.S. Olympic roster came late in the process, as the midfielder used an April call-up to force her way into Ellis’ squad. Starting against the Football Ferns on Wednesday, Long looked unsettled early and had three notable giveaways in the first half.
However, she worked her way into the game, playing much better after the break. In the second half, Long recycled possession well out of her No. 6 position and made the entry pass that led to the U.S.’ second goal.
The question now is what Ellis will do going forward. She could use her depth and rotate her midfielders as the tournament progresses, especially as Brian builds her fitness coming off her hamstring injury. Or the coach could stick with Long and Brian in the starting role and use Horan off the bench, as she did on Wednesday when Horan replaced Brian in the 64th minute.
TOBIN HEATH RETURNS
Tobin Heath, like Brian, injured her hamstring before the tournament and prior to Wednesday's match hadn’t started for the U.S. since June 5.
However, Heath looked bright in her return to the lineup. She assisted on the team’s first goal, contributed to the build-up on the second tally, and provided dangerous delivery on the U.S.’ set pieces. Notably, she also played the entire 90 minutes of Wednesday’s contest, putting to rest any lingering worries about her fitness.
BRIGHT START IN THE BAG
As the favorite to win the 2016 Rio Olympics, no one seriously believes the U.S. faces any danger of missing out on advancing to the knockout round. However, with No. 3 France on deck, followed by a notoriously chippy Colombia side in the final match of group play, picking up three points in their opener makes things much easier for the Americans going forward.
It also helps that Morgan (who struggled for form at times over the past year) and Lloyd (coming off an MCL injury) picked up confidence-boosting tallies against New Zealand. The defense also notched a shutout. Combined, all these factors put the U.S. in the best-possible position for its match against France on Saturday (4pm ET, NBCSN).
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.