"I'm not pleased with the result, but I am pleased with the way we played," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "I thought we played well enough to score at least three goals, which on another day, we might have converted. But when you lose, there are always things to learn and build on."
The two teams were meeting for the first time since the 1999 Women's World Cup Final on July 10, 1999, a match also decided from the penalty spot.
But while the intensity on the field was equal to that of last summer's clash, with China fielding nine starters from the Final and the USA fielding eight, the game proved a stark contrast to the historic match at the Rose Bowl. The Women's World Cup Final was played in 90-degree temperatures on the glass-smooth turf of the Rose Bowl in front of 90,000 fans. The Pacific Cup opener for both teams was played with the thermometer touching 0 Celsius, on a field made choppy by rugby league matches and in front of a crowd of approximately 550 fans.
Still, those fans were treated to a classic USA-China chess match as each team attacked and defended in numbers. The Americans got the better of the game, out-shooting China, 10-5, while clearly producing the more dangerous chances.
The USA played effective pressuring defense the entire match with center-midfielders Julie Foudy and Lorrie Fair proving dynamic ball-winners. While the skillful Chinese did put together several sequences of quick passes that had the U.S. defense chasing, the Women's World Cup runners-up could not find a way behind the U.S. back line.
"The U.S. team is always disappointed when we lose," added Heinrichs. "But China is a terrific team and they always have been. Even under high pressure, they are difficult to dispossess."
With captain Carla Overbeck back in the United States recovering from knee surgery, April Heinrichs moved Joy Fawcett into the middle of the defense with Kate Sobrero and inserted Christie Pearce at Fawcett's usual right back slot. All three repeatedly ran down China through balls with tremendous closing speed while U.S. goalkeeper Siri Mullinix came off her line to clear away several long services. The USA kept Wen, the 1999 Women's World Cup MVP, in front of them and under wraps for the entire match, perhaps too much so on the sequence that resulted in what surely was a dubious penalty kick call.
It was a momentary lapse that led to China's goal as the U.S. defense let a ball bounce in the penalty box. Wen darted after the ball, but was screened by Danielle Slaton and then both went down in a heap as Mullinix charged out to slide and corral the ball. Australian referee Tammy Ogston ruled that Slaton had wrapped her arms around Wen and pulled her to the ground, then pointed to the penalty spot and gave Slaton a yellow card.
Wen calmly stuck her shot into the right corner past the wrong-footed Mullinix, much like she had done in the Women's World Cup Final past Briana Scurry on China's fifth kick, before Brandi Chastain ended the game with her famous shot.
The USA attacked furiously during the time remaining, but even four minutes of stoppage time were not enough in which to manufacture an equalizer. Still, the USA came painfully close as Cindy Parlow put Tiffeny Milbrett through alone in the 90th minute, but while Milbrett's shot from an angle in the left side of the penalty box beat goalkeeper Han Wenxia, it slipped just inches wide of the right post.
It was Milbrett that got the game's first chance when she picked off a Chinese square pass in just the 10th minute and raced in on a breakaway. Her driven shot was well-saved by Wenxia with a dive to her left.
China's only other true dangerous chance besides the goal game in the 28th minute when Zhao Lihong penetrated U.S. defense on left side and hit a screamer over the crossbar.
"I thought it was a bit of a sloppy game offensively with the field and the cold," said U.S. captain Julie Foudy. "But China is always good and it always seems to come down to the last minutes with them. Unfortunately we were on the wrong side tonight."
U.S. substitutes Slaton and Parlow added a spark to the U.S. attack in the second half. In the 61st minute, Slaton streaked down the left flank and crossed to Parlow, but her bullet header went straight to Wenxia. One minute later Slaton ran down a cleared ball on the left side and played a precise cross the far post, but Fair slammed her half-volley wide of the goal.
"Neither China or the United States was at their best," said China Head Coach Ma Yuanan. "But we must be happy with the result."
The loss deals the USA's a harsh blow in its chances to win the Pacific Cup as the Americans must now count on another team to upset China in order to win the tournament. Both teams will now face Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan in the round-robin competition.
"China is one of those teams that is going to technically dominate play," said U.S. forward Mia Hamm. "You have to try not to get frustrated and make the most of your opportunities. We had some great chances, but China got the penalty kick. Of course, we are frustrated, but we have another game in two days and we just have to learn from this one and move onto Canada. We're going to play China again, probably more times than we want, but you have to play the best teams in the world to prepare yourself for a tournament like the Olympics."
The USA may return to Bruce Stadium as it will be the site of the Olympic semifinal should the U.S. women win its first-round group. The U.S. team travels to Sydney tomorrow and will face Canada at the Sydney Football Stadium on Friday, June 2. The SFS is the site of the women's soccer gold medal game for the 2000 Olympics.
In other matches, Canada scored twice in the last five minutes, including the winning goal with under 30 seconds left, to complete a come-from-behind, 2-1, victory over New Zealand. Host Australia used a second half goal to defeat Japan, 1-0.
2000 U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Women's National Team vs. China National Team|
|Competition:||2000 Pacific Cup|
|Venue:||Bruce Stadium (Canberra, ACT, Australia)|
|Date:||May 31, 2000 - Kickoff 5:00 p.m. local/3 a.m. ET|
|Weather:||34 degrees - Cold, Clear|
CHN - Sun Wen (Penalty Kick), 86.
USA - 26-Siri Mullinix, 6-Brandi Chastain (19-Danielle Slaton, 46th), 20-Kate Sobrero, 14-Joy Fawcett, 3-Christie Pearce, 13-Kristine Lilly, 2-Lorrie Fair, 11-Julie Foudy, 8-Shannon MacMillan (12-Cindy Parlow, 56th), 9-Mia Hamm (5-Nikki Serlenga, 81st), 16-Tiffeny Milbrett.
CHN - 1-Han Wenxia, 3-Fan Yunjie, 12-Wen Lirong, 14-Bai Jie, 2-Wang Liping, 6-Zhao Lihong, 10-Liu Ailing, 13-Liu Ying (5-Shui Gingxia, 30th), 7-Zhang Ouying (16-Fan Chunling, 39th), 8-Jin Yan (15-Qiu Haiyan, 60th), 9-Sun Wen.
|Zhao Lihong (caution)||23,|
|Qui Haiyan (caution)||79,|
|Danielle Slaton (caution)||85.|
|2000 Pacific Cup Standings|
|Pacific Cup Leading Goal Scorers|
|Amanda Crawford||New Zealand||1|