E.A. Sports Today

Team USA flexes its muscles

[corner-ad id=2]Women’s National Team scores early and often against Haiti, to the delight of a record crowd in Legion Field

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM – This one was over before it really got started and the record crowd that watched it couldn’t have been more delighted.

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team dominated Haiti from the start on its way to an easy 8-0 victory at Legion Field in the fourth match of its 10-game nationwide Victory Tour.

The Haitians, a fill-in for the Australian national team that could not appear due to a dispute within their national federation, struggled to get the ball past midfield against an aggressive American team that was clicking on all-cylinders. Team USA scored in the first minute and Carli Lloyd had a hat trick in the first half.

“Our speed, spacing and ball movement were really good and we executed with precision,” U.S. National Team coach Jill Ellis said. “The professionalism that we showed and the pride we showed were exceptional and we played up to the standard we have created for this team.”

The World Cup champions entered Legion Field to a standing ovation that brought chills to everyone in the stadium. American flags were waving all over the stadium and were the dominant sight of the day.

The crowd was announced at 35,753, which U.S. Soccer officials said was the largest for a stand-alone friendly in the Southeastern United States.

For comparisons sake, the crowd was larger than last year’s Birmingham Bowl between Florida and East Carolina (30,083) and three of the other eight Papa John’s/Compass/Birmingham bowl games in Legion Field.

“The fans in Birmingham have been absolutely marvelous,” Ellis said. “They came to the game early and were all decked out in red, white and blue and we could hear them cheering the whole game. The people are so nice here and they always say ‘please’ when they ask for an autograph. They are really nice people.”

The No. 1 team in the world rewarded the crowd for their enthusiasm early. Team USA got on the board in the first minute of play when Julie Johnston slammed home a corner kick from Kelley O’Hara.

“It was just perfect and I was able to just kick it in from there,” said Johnston, a 23-year-old from Mesa, Ariz.

Lloyd scored her goals at the 16-, 22- and 39-minute marks. It was her third hat trick in her last five matches. She played only a half.

Lloyd scored her first when she converted a penalty kick after Alex Morgan was knocked down in the box. Her second came on a clearing pass across the front of the goal from Morgan. The hat trick was complete when she drilled a shot from in front of the net on an assist from Megan Rapinoe.

The hat trick gave her 77 career goals, passing Cindy Parlow for sixth on the U.S. all-time list. Abby Wambach is the all-time leader with 184, 26 goals ahead of Mia Hamm.

“It was a good atmosphere and my teammates got me the ball in good positions,” Lloyd said. “The timing was there. I am just trying to do what I can do to help the team win and create opportunities for us to score.”

The Americans’ other first half goal came at the 17-minute mark when Crystal Dunn, making her first start for the U.S. team, took a long pass from Rapinoe and scored to make it 3-0.

“Crystal played fantastic and has made a seamless transition to our team on the Victory Tour,” Ellis said. “She has been practicing with us for a long while and her play has been impactful. She is ready to go and has great focus. We are looking at her and others over the next six games. All the players want to get to January and the Olympic team tryouts.”

Team USA made six substitutions at the half, but its depth showed as Amy Rodriguez put the USA up 6-0 with a goal from just outside the box at the 51-minute mark.

Opportunities were abundant in the second half as the U.S. had several shots hit the crossbar. Haiti packed 10 players inside the box to prevent many more U.S. goals and the ball very rarely was even controlled by the Haitians.

Hope Solo, recognized as one of the world’s best, was a lonely keeper as the Haitians were unable to get off a shot in the first half.

She touched the ball only three times, but each time she got a rousing cheer from the crowd. Solo has 89 career shutouts in goal. She was replaced in the second half by Ashlyn Harris, who touched the ball only four times.

It was the second game in a row the U.S. defenders have not yielded a shot on goal.

Haiti has never scored against the Americans. Team USA, meanwhile, has scored 42 in the series it leads 6-0.

After helping everyone else score, Morgan finally broke through in the 85th minute with a goal of her own, a header off an assist from Whitney Engen. Heather O’Reilly added the final goal with an assist from Rodriguez.

The Americans are now 4-0 on the Victory Tour. They have previously beaten Costa Rica twice (8-0 and 7-2) and Haiti (5-0). Their next match is Oct. 21 against Brazil in Seattle.

“The goal of this tour is two-fold,” Ellis said. “To bring the team across the country to celebrate the historic World Cup victory with our fans, but also to prepare for qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, as that tournament is right around the corner.”

Haiti, ranked 63rd in the world, was eliminated from qualifying for the Olympics qualifier to be held in February. It defeated Aruba (14-0) and Grenada (13-0), but lost to Puerto Rico 3-2 to miss the final qualifier.

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