U.S. forward Alex Morgan tallied the tying and game-winning goals in the closing minutes as the U.S. Women's National Team came from behind to defeat New Zealand 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 25,677 at FC Dallas Stadium.
Just minutes from losing a hard-fought match in which New Zealand proved to be an opponent with big heart and gritty intensity, the USA gave the home fans plenty to cheer about in a wild and dramatic final few minutes.
The U.S. had given up a goal on a poor back pass in the first few minutes of the second half - which proved to be the Kiwis only shot on goal in the game - and then spent the remainder of the match desperately pushing for an equalizer. In the 88th minute, second half substitution Megan Rapinoe crossed the ball from the right side and found Morgan at the far post. Morgan headed the ball down to the ground and her shot hit the inside of the left post and spun up into the goal. New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon grabbed the ball, but she was standing inside her goal, and the assistant referee did not hesitate to raise her flag, signaling that the ball had in fact crossed over the line.
With the momentum in their favor, the U.S. pushed for the game-winner and in the third minute of stoppage time, Morgan found the net once again on a header for her 16th career goal. With the final whistle just second from blowing, Rachel Buehler crossed from the left wing and Abby Wambach flicked the ball up in the air. Morgan jumped over a defender to win the header near the left post, sending her bouncing shot back off the right post with the perfect carom and into the net. Morgan was named But Light Woman of the Match with her two late tallies that are believed to be the latest goals scored by one player in a U.S. WNT game.
"It wasn't meant to be like that; I had other expectations in the first half, but I'll take the result any day," said U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage. "We made it really, really exciting. As Alex Morgan said after the game, 'there's something to be said about this team. We refuse to lose.' We always want to win. We did some things tactically that I was really happy about - playing a 3-4-3 the last 12-14 minutes going for a goal. It's a great attitude."
The U.S. improved to 6-0-0 on the year and 8-1-0 against New Zealand. The USA has won its past eight matches against the Ferns.
The late-game heroics from Morgan offset the efforts of a determined New Zealand side that did not back down after gaining the lead early in the 49 th minute. The Kiwis goal came off an ill-advised back pass from left back Kelley O'Hara, who looped a long ball back into the U.S. penalty area that second half substitute goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart could not get to before forward Hannah Wilkinson raced in to lift a shot over the onrushing 'keeper and into the net. Barnhart, who was a planned substitution for Hope Solo to open the second half, saw her first action of 2012 and earned her 42nd career cap.
Solo extended her scoreless streak this year to 495 minutes but did not have to record a save in her 45 minutes of work.
The goal was the first goal allowed by the USA this year after outscoring its opponents 38-0 in five matches to win 2012 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying and earn a berth for the 2012 London Olympics.
The USA tried to respond quickly following Wilkinson's goal. In the 57th minute, second-half sub Amy Rodriguez - who played very well on the left wing during her 45 minutes - took the ball down the left flank and crossed through the box to U.S. right back Amy LePeilbet. LePeilbet sent the ball back into the middle and found Wambach, but her header went directly to Bindon.
In the 67th minute, Rapinoe got her head on a Lauren Cheney corner kick from the right side and put it on frame, but Bindon safely covered up the attempt and did not allow a rebound as Buehler crashed the goal.
The hectic finish might had been avoided had the U.S. scored early, and it had a golden chance to do so after just 10 minutes when Morgan was tripped up in the box on what might have been a last defender foul. Wambach took the subsequent penalty kick, but rolled her shot off the left post as Bindon dove right. New Zealand cleared out of danger before any U.S. player could follow up.
The Ferns escaped that early threat and found their first strong scoring opportunity in the 12th minute as the speedy Wilkinson got behind the USA's pushed-up back line. U.S. defenders Buehler and Christie Rampone scrambled back, and just before they could get in Wilkinson's path, she took a shot that went over Solo's glove and also rose over the crossbar.
Next up for the U.S. WNT is the 2012 Algarve Cup in Portugal. The U.S. opens group play against Denmark on Feb. 29 at Municipal Stadium in Lagos, Portugal (12 p.m. kickoff).
Additional Match Notes:
USA: 1-Hope Solo (18-Nicole Barnhart, 46); 6-Amy LePeilbet, 3-Christie Rampone (capt.), 19-Rachel Buehler, 5-Kelley O'Hara (11-Sydney Leroux, 81); 9-Heather O'Reilly (8-Amy Rodriguez, 46), 7-Shannon Boxx, 10-Carli Lloyd (15-Megan Rapinoe, 62), 12-Lauren Cheney (16-Lori Lindsey, 81); 13-Alex Morgan, 20-Abby Wambach Subs not used: 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 17-Tobin Heath
Head coach: Pia Sundhage
NZL: 1-Jenny Bindon; 2-Ria Percival, 5-Abbey Erceg, 6-Rebecca Smith (capt.), 7-Ali Riley; 4-Katie Hoyle, 8-Hayley Moorwood (12-Betsy Hassett, 61), 11-Kirsty Yallop, 9-Amber Hearn, 10-Sarah Gregorius, 17-Hannah Wilkinson (13-Rosie White, 74) Subs not used: 3-Anna Green, 14-Holly Patterson, 16-Annalie Longo, 19-Kristy Hill, 21-Erin Nayler
Head coach: Tony Readings