U.S. women's national team defeats Norway 2-1
The U.S. Women's National Team scored two second-half goals to defeat Norway 2-1 in its second group match at the 2012 Algarve Cup. After a scoreless first half, Abby Wambach broke through in the 51st minute with her 133rd career international goal and then 21-year-old Sydney Leroux tallied what turned out to be the game-winner in the 81st.
The USA will next meet Japan on March 5 at Estadio Algarve in Faro with a kickoff of 9:10 a.m. ET. It will be the first meeting between the teams since the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup Final on July 17 last summer.
The USA heads into the match against the Japanese needing a victory or a tie to win the group and qualify for the championship game, which will be played on March 7.
Japan defeated Denmark 2-0 in the other Group B match, giving both the USA and Japan the full six points from two group matches. The USA holds the advantage in the first tiebreaker - goal difference - having scored seven and allowed just one for a plus-six, while the Japanese have scored four and allowed one for a plus-three.
The USA once again played in 4-4-2 formation but U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage made three changes from the starting lineup that faced Denmark on Feb. 29. Sundhage inserted Becky Sauerbrunn in the center of the defense to pair with Christie Rampone and started Stephanie Cox at left back with Tobin Heath at left midfield. Heath played with a light cast on her left arm after breaking a small bone in her wrist during a fall against Denmark.
While neither team could find the net in the first half - Norway had just one shot and it wasn't on goal - the Americans could have scored several goals early. In just the 8th minute, Morgan picked off a Norway pass in the midfield, touched the ball around a defender and raced toward the goal down the left side. She had Wambach making a run up the middle but chose to shoot, and Norwegian goalkeeper Caroline Knutsen was able to dive to parry the near-post drive away for a corner kick.
About five minutes later, Morgan burst through the center of the Norway defense on a breakaway. She ran 40 yards with three players chasing but then cut her left-footed shot wide right of the goal from the top of the penalty area.
Morgan played distributor in the 23rd minute after a nice combination of passes down the right wing got her free to chip a cross into the middle. The ball was headed up in the air by a Norwegian defender and it fell to the leaping Heath at the far post, but her sharp header was pushed away by Knutsen.
Norway played in a 4-5-1 formation that made the midfield quite crowded and possessing the ball in the center of the field difficult, but U.S. center midfielders Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd did a fine job of keeping the U.S. team linked together while helping keep the attacking rhythm going.
On the other end, Norway did create some danger during the game, mostly through quick counter-attacks and set plays but put together its most effective sequences early in the second half.
Besides the goal, Norway's two most dangerous chances came just after the break. In the 48th minute, Lindy Melissa Wiik got free into the right side of the U.S. penalty area and she fired at Hope Solo, but Solo held her ground and pushed the shot away. Just a few minutes later, Solo had to make a similar save at the left post on Elise Thorsnes, but this one she caught.
With those bullets dodged, it was Wambach who put the USA ahead on the next U.S. attack. Wambach started it with a cross from the left side. The ball skipped through the penalty area and out to the right, where Heather O'Reilly ran it down. She played it back into Boxx, who was dispossessed, but the ball rolled right to second half substitute Heather Mitts on the right side. Wambach's former teammate at the University of Florida spun a perfect cross over the pack of players to the left side of the penalty box. Wambach's first touch settled the ball and then she laced a 16-yard shot across the face of the goal, off the right post and in.
It was Wambach's 133rd career international goal and second of the tournament. Mitts became the second U.S. outside back to record an assist in the tournament after Cox got one in the victory against Denmark.
Norway pushed hard for an equalizer, but the U.S. back line in the second half - Cox, Sauerbrunn, Rachel Buehler (who replaced Rampone at halftime) and Mitts did a stellar job of breaking up one Norway counter-attack after another.
Sundhage sent on Amy Rodriguez for O'Reilly in the 58th minute and Sydney Leroux for Morgan in the 77th minute, and the two would combine for the winning goal.
It started when Buehler struck a fantastic weak-side pass from the center to the left wing, covering about 50 yards in the air. Rodriguez collected and ran at her defender down the line before cutting the ball back inside and hitting a cross to the far post. The crashing Leroux jumped over a Norway defender to pound a header into the net from three yards out as both went down in a heap.
It was Leroux's seventh international goal in just seven career games and her second of the tournament.
Norway got on the board with just seconds left after the U.S. let Thorsnes get free in the left side of the penalty area. She did well to keep her composure and power a shot past Solo from close range. The USA didn't even have time to kick off before the final whistle blew. It was the first goal Solo has allowed in 2012 and only the second the U.S. has allowed in its first eight games of the year.