Carli Lloyd wasted little time Wednesday in continuing her streak of early goals on the worldwide stage.
Lloyd, who had a 16-minute hat trick in the World Cup final, scored in the ninth minute of the Women’s National Team’s first Olympic match against New Zealand. Add on Alex Morgan’s goal 40 seconds into the second half, and the U.S. walked away from Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil with a 2-0 win.
Lloyd’s goal was a combination of placement and strength, as she powered her way up to find a Tobin Heath cross, and headed in the ball for a 1-0 lead 9 minutes into the match.
Despite a frenetic start to the match that included several fouls by a physical New Zealand team, play settled down, and the U.S. went into halftime with the one-goal cushion.
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But within the first minute of the second half restart, Morgan collected a ball on the near side and fired a bullet into the net off a left-footed strike to double the lead.
“It’s always great to get a first-half goal to settle things down for us. We might have settled too much though, and we needed to revamp for the start of the second,” FC Kansas City defender and National Team captain Becky Sauerbrunn said in an email message from Brazil. “We pushed and earned an early second-half goal through Alex, which really set the tone for the rest of the half. We could rest legs a bit more and just move the ball around safely.”
On the defensive side, Sauerbrunn helped preserve the U.S.’ 14th shutout of the year. In 15 matches before the Olympics, the Americans only allowed four goals, and that defensive stubbornness extended to Brazil.
The U.S. also was able to maintain possession despite New Zealand’s tough pressuring defense and physical challenges: Twenty-six fouls were called in the match between both teams. But the U.S. kept possession, and held New Zealand to only four shots, and just one on goal.
“We knew that New Zealand was going to high-pressure us whenever they could, so our game plan was to move the ball faster than their pressure,” Sauerbrunn said. “I think for the majority of the game we did that. The times when we didn’t, we got into battles. And that was the other part of our game plan: set the level of physicality. Give as good as you get.”
Sauerbrunn’s teammate in Kansas City, Katie Bowen, was a starter for New Zealand and played 60 minutes.
Next up for the U.S. is its second group match of the tournament, at 3 p.m. Saturday against France. The Americans will have to finish in the top two of their group (which also includes Colombia) to advance to the Olympic quarterfinals.
The U.S. is trying to become the first team to directly follow up a Women’s World Cup trophy with an Olympic gold medal.