GUANGZHOU, China (Sunday, January 27, 2002) - The U.S. Women's National Team took care of business early, scoring two goals in the first nine minutes, and then played a splendid match on both sides of the ball to defeat a talented Chinese team, 2-0, in final match of the Four Nations Women's Tournament at Tianhe Stadium. The game was played in wet conditions under a steady drizzle as Shannon MacMillan and Tiffeny Milbrett scored for the USA, which had been shutout in two straight Four Nations matches despite dominating play.
With the win, the USA ended the tournament with four points, the same as Germany. The two teams both had the same goal difference at plus-one, but Germany scored more goals and thus finished in second place, with the USA third and China last. Norway won the tournament with six points despite being hammered by Germany, 3-1, in the first game of the day.
"The USA has some growing to do," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "We are trying to blend some younger players with the experienced ones and that takes time, but I like the way the team progressed and grew together in this tournament and played better in each successive game."
The victory was the 200th in the history of the U.S. Women's National Team program dating back to 1985 and it also broke a seven-game streak in which the Americans had not beaten China in regulation time. It was also Heinrichs' first win over China as head coach.
The U.S. had never been shutout for three consecutive matches, and MacMillan made sure it wouldn't happen today, scoring in just the third minute on a scorching volley. The goal originated on the left sideline as Cindy Parlow got her head on a long thrown-in from Danielle Slaton and flicked the ball over the Chinese defense. The ball bounced perfectly for MacMillan to time her volley and bury the ball into the left corner from 16 yards out past flying Chinese goalkeeper Geng Xiaoxia.
"We knew that our finishing was flat and we hadn't taken our chances in the first two games, so today we wanted to come out hard take the game to China," said MacMillan, who scored her 39th international goal.
The second goal was also a Slaton-to-Parlow production, but this time Milbrett was the recipient of the final pass. From the left flank, Slaton threaded a pass to Parlow in the penalty area and she held her defender off as she was pulled to the ground. From the turf, Parlow still managed to slide and poke the ball to Milbrett, who collected in the middle of the goal and cut a left-footed shot low into the right corner from eight yards out. The 5-foot-11 Parlow was highly effective in all three games, holding possession for the U.S. on the front line, while also running at defenses and dishing penetrating passes.
The two goals on the first two shots of the game brought relief to a U.S. team that had suffered two games of frustration in front of the net. The American women allowed just one goal in the tournament, the fewest of the four teams, and that goal came just five minutes into the first match against Norway. Had the USA tied that game, they would have won the tournament.
China attacked with flair the entire match, but the U.S. back line were warriors in front of goalkeeper LeKeysia Beene, who was no-nonsense in her shot-stopping and brilliant racing off her line to corral dangerous through balls. Kate Sobrero, and later Thori Bryan, did a fine job at right back keeping Chinese speedster Zhao Lihong in front of them while Cat Reddick and Joy Fawcett held down the middle and left back Danielle Slaton was once again a dominating physical presence.
In the 16th minute, Ren Liping got behind the U.S. defense, but was run down by Slaton, who tackled the ball away for Beene to scoop up. In stoppage time of the first half, Ren got behind the defense again, but this time is was Sobrero that recovered to win the ball. In the 23rd minute, Zhang Ouying nutmegged Slaton on the right flank, then touched the ball past a sliding Reddick and whipped in a dangerous cross that slipped all the way through to Pu Wei, but her first time shot from 18 yards out was grabbed by Beene with a full extension dive to her right.
As always, the Chinese moved the ball with precision and speed, urged on by their vocal fans who roared every time a Chinese attack crossed midfield. But despite numerous dangerous runs down the flanks, the Chinese took just seven shots in the game as the American defense stiffened in its back third.
The USA knew going into the game that it needed a 3-0 win to beat out Germany for second place and they went after the third goal for the remainder of the match.
In the 33rd minute, they almost got it as the Chinese goalkeeper picked up a back pass off the toe of a sliding defender. The U.S. had an indirect free kick from the elbow of the six-yard box as Lilly touched the ball to MacMillan who took a full swing. Her point blank shot likely caused a bruise on the thigh of one of the 11 Chinese players lined up on the goal line, but the ball rebounded out of danger.
The USA was on its heels a bit in the first 30 minutes of the second half, but still defended extremely well against a relentless Chinese team as the midfielders of Lorrie Fair, Julie Foudy and Aly Wagner did a fine job of keeping possession and dictating their own rhythm. China had two golden chances to pull a goal back in the first six minutes of the half, but Ren's wide open header flew over the crossbar in the 48th minute and Zhang put her chance over the top in the 51st minute after getting an open look at the goal in the right side of the penalty area. China also had a quality chance in the 69th minute as Pu got good forehead on a header from a corner kick, but the ball bounced right to Beene.
The USA got a bit of the game back in the final 15 minutes, finding a crisp ball possession rhythm of its own that nearly produced another goal. Brandi Chastain, a reserve forward on the 1991 Women's World Cup Team that won the title at Tianhe Stadium, got a run up top for the first time in years when she replaced Parlow in the 65th minute, but it was 73rd minute substitute Kylie Bivens that almost got the USA its third goal, running onto a long pass in the 76th minute, then weaving through three defenders in the penalty area to work free for her shot from 12 yards. A sliding Geng knocked the ball down, denying Bivens her first international goal.
In the 85th minute, halftime substitute Aly Wagner wiggled free at the top of the penalty area, but her skidding shot from 18 yards out was pushed around the left post by Geng.
"I have to say that we are a bit disappointed in the 2-0 victory as our goal was to win 3-0 and take second place," added Heinrichs. "But I am very pleased with the energy and enthusiasm with which the entire team went after that third goal. We gave up a goal early in the first game which ended up costing us the tournament and that should be a cruel lesson of how small the margin of winning and losing is in this game."
In the first game of the day, Germany notched a tremendous 3-1 victory over Norway, using goals from Kerstin Garafrekes, Birgit Prinz and a brilliant strike from Bettina Wiegmann to counter a 35-year bomb from Solveig Gulgbrandsen.
Beene, who played three mistake-free matches, was named the Best Goalkeeper of the Tournament, while Prinz was voted Best Player and Gulbrandsen, who scored three times, was the tournament's top goal scorer. Along with the title, Norway won the Fair Play Award and its coach, Age Steen, was voted Best Coach of the tournament.
The U.S. team will start the long trip home tomorrow morning and then re-group at the end of February to prepare for the 2002 Algarve Cup in Portugal. Details on the Algarve Cup schedule will be announced shortly.
U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
Participants: United States vs. China
Competition: Four Nations Women's Tournament
Venue: Tianhe Stadium (Guangzhou, China)
Date: January 25, 2002 - Kickoff 3:55 p.m. Local/2:55 a.m. ET
Weather: Cold, rainy - 40 degrees
Scoring Summary: 1st - 2nd - Final
USA 2 - 0 - 2
CHN 0 - 0 - 0
USA - Shannon MacMillan (Cindy Parlow), 3.
USA - Tiffeny Milbrett (Cindy Parlow), 9.
USA - 24-Lakeysia Beene, 15-Kate Sobrero (3-Thori Bryan, 46), 4-Cat Reddick, 14-Joy Fawcett, 19-Danielle Slaton, 13-Kristine Lilly (21-Kylie Bivens, 73), 2-Lorrie Fair, 11-Julie Foudy-Capt., 8-Shannon MacMillan (10-Aly Wagner, 46), 12-Cindy Parlow (6-Brandi Chastain, 65), 16-Tiffeny Milbrett.
CHN - 18-Geng Xiaoyan, 3-Fan Yunjie, 4-Bai Jie (20-Liu Yali, 90), 5-Lie Jie, 14-Zhou Xiaoxia (2-Wang Liping, 22), 11-Pu Wei, 12-Qu Feifei, 15-Pan Lina (10-Ren Liping, 14), 6-Zhou Lihong, 7-Zhang Ouying (9-Chi Yi, 46), 8-Bai Lili.
Statistical Summary: USA - CHN
Shots: 11 - 7
Shots on Goal: 7 - 3
Saves: 3 - 5
Corner Kicks: 2 - 5
Fouls: 10 - 15
Offside: 2 - 2
USA - Tiffeny Milbrett (caution), 20.
CHN - Fan Yunjie (caution), 45.
CHN - Zhao Lihong (caution), 83.
USA - Thori Bryan (caution), 89.
Referee: Christine Frai (Germany)
Assistant Referee: Vibeke Karlsen (Norway)
Assistant Referee: Liu Hongjuan (China)