Tar Heels Play Key Roles in U.S. Soccer Win Over New Zealand
[Updated to reflect Canada’s victory over Great Britain and that the U.S. will play Canada on Monday.]
A goal by Abby Wambach on a pass from Alex Morgan and another by Sydney Leroux on a pass from UNC’s Tobin Heath ’10 defeated New Zealand 2-0 in the Olympics on Friday to move the U.S. women’s soccer team into the semifinals against Canada.
Heath, who started for the first time since the opening game of the Olympics, played the whole game, while fellow Tar Heel Heather O’Reilly ’09 came in to replace Megan Rapinoe for the last 20 minutes.
Those last 20 minutes, with both Heath and O’Reilly, proved to be the most intriguing part of the game. New Zealand, down 1-0, desperately attacked in this elimination match. The U.S. didn’t back down, trying to get the insurance goal. The substitution of O’Reilly may have been made for several reasons, not the least of which is that O’Reilly can attack and defend equally – which matched the late trend of the game.
Just after O’Reilly came in, Morgan was injured when she and New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon collided. O’Reilly had a couple of chances to score but, on one occasion, she couldn’t control a pass to her in front of the goal while, on another occasion, she made a good run at the goal but popped it just over the net.
It took a goal from Leroux, who had replaced Morgan, to wrap things up. It took a long, left-footed lead pass from Heath to put Leroux in clear position to score. Heath banged it about 40 yards down the left sideline with perfect pace for Leroux to run underneath it 20 yards out. Leroux controlled it and footed it in from about 10 yards away.
Interestingly, Leroux, a Canadian-born U.S. player, scored against Bindon, who was raised in the United States. In addition, New Zealand’s captain, Rebecca Smith, is a former Duke soccer captain who was born in the United States to a pair of New Zealand-born parents. Leroux, who not only was born in Canada but lived there until she was 14, has been booed mercilessly in Canada for playing for the U.S. team.
Those boos could come again Monday as the Americans will face Canada, which beat Great Britain. Also adding intrigue to a game with Canada is that former Tar Heel Robyn Gayle ’08 plays for the Canadians.
Speaking as an analyst for NBC before the Canada-Great Britain match, former Tar Heel player and gold medal winner Cat Whitehill ’04 said that the better matchup for the United States would be Canada. “They’ve seen Canada; they play Canada all the time,” Whitehill said. “Great Britain has the home-field advantage and is riding a huge momentum swing. Either one is going to be extremely difficult for the United States, though.”
Heath and O’Reilly each have started two games during the Olympics. The U.S. bench is full of players that can start or play when called upon. Former U.S. player Brandi Chastain said that while all members of the team want to play, they are completely fine with someone else coming in. “As a team they have a collective awareness that everyone on the team is capable and confident to come in and do the job,” she said.
It sounds as if the juggling of a starting lineup, as well as who will come on late in the game, will continue for the gold-medal-favorite U.S. team.
— Clifton Barnes ’82