"The crowds for these two games were like the World Cup in 1999, only we weren't on the receiving end of the support," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs, whose team helped inaugurate the state-of-the-art stadium which features a roof over all the stands that keeps the crowd noise right on top of the players. "Every time China touched the ball in their attacking half, the crowd was deafening and it surely inspired their players. In 2000, we really only played two matches before the Olympics in which the players couldn't hear each other on the field. We've already played two this year."
The U.S. team put together a much more potent offensive performance than in the 1-0 loss to China last Thursday and got on the board first through Jennifer Lalor in just the 17th minute. Meredith Florance ran onto a pass down the left flank and squared up on her defender before playing a short square pass to Tiffeny Milbrett who had come to support. Milbrett played a pass back to the trailing Lalor, who hit a brilliant first-time shot with the outside of her right foot from the lip of the left side of penalty box, looping her spinning shot over Chinese goalkeeper Han Wenxia and into the right corner.
It was just the second career goal for Lalor, who was a member of the 1995 Women's World Cup Team, but prior to this trip, had not played for the national team since then. For scoring the first-ever goal in the history of the stadium, Lalor received a prize of 10,000 yuÃ¡n from local organizers, or approximately, $1,250 American.
China dominated the opening phase of the game in which the inexperienced U.S. players looked a bit intimidated by both the speed of play and the decibel level. In just the 3rd minute, Bai Jie sliced a diving header just past the left post and then in the 7th minute Kate Sobrero had to run down Bai, who had a 40 yard breakaway before the U.S. defender caught her at the last minute, tackling the ball away for U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo to pounce on.
The U.S. lead was short-lived, however, as China tied the match just four minutes after the U.S. goal. China got a free-kick just outside the penalty box on the right flank and played a bending ball in over the U.S. restraining line. Defender Fan Yunjie, who will play for the San Diego Spirit in the WUSA this year, got inside position on her defender to punch a header into the upper left corner. From there, the battle was on.
"Many of players had never seen China other than on TV and in that respect, it was important for these players to get a feel for the pressure, rivalry and crowd noise of a U.S.-China game," added Heinrichs.
While China out-shot the U.S. team 15-12, the Americans had their share of chances. In the 15th minute Milbrett won a bouncing ball at the top of the box, but her looping shot over the onrushing goalkeeper was too soft, and a Chinese defender recovered to scoop the ball away about two yards from the goal line.
In the 43rd minute, the ball bounced to Meredith Florance off a Chinese head after the U.S. had flighted a free-kick into the penalty box, but her volley from 18 yards went over the top.
The USA's went the whole way in a 3-5-2 formation and the center midfield of Nikki Serlenga, Lorrie Fair and Jennifer Lalor were able to help produce more possession for the USA than in the previous match. Lalor and Milbrett, who will play together for the New York Power in the WUSA, were particularly adept at combining as they attempted to find a way through the swarming Chinese defense.
The first 10 minutes of the second half were also eventful for the U.S. team as China came at them in waves. After a shaky first half, Solo came up huge in the goal for the USA, making five saves in the second half including two spectacular stops, and sent booming punts deep into the Chinese side of the field. In the 54th minute Bai once again got a step on the U.S. defense, but Solo stood her ground to deflect the hard shot with her chest.
One minute later, Zhao Lihong got behind the U.S. on the left flank and turned the corner, but her cross was cleared away by the scrambling U.S. defense. Solo made perhaps the save of the game in the 57th minute, after Bai had somehow worked herself free from both Kate Sobrero and Christie Pearce with a series of sharp cuts and stutter steps. Solo stretched out completely to her right to push away Bai's shot from 15 yards out.
With the performance of the two young U.S. goalkeepers on the tour, the 26-year-old Jaime Pagliarulo, and the 19-year-old Solo, the USA's future in the nets looks solid.
"We had several new players emerge over these two games that may very well compete for a place on the 2003 World Cup Team," said Heinrichs. While the second half featured end-to-end play, China had the edge in scoring chances, but the U.S. defense refused to break. Sobrero and Pearce, in particular, engaged in a track meet with the Chinese forwards, sprinting all over the field to repel the Chinese attacks, which came fast and often.
Heinrichs inserted Stephanie Rigamat and Mary-Frances Monroe into the game in the 59th minute, and after initially getting caught in a daze by the Chinese maelstrom, both settled down to add a spark to the U.S. attack. In the 71st minute, Rigamat slipped a pass to Milbrett in the right side of the penalty box, but her angle was too steep and she shot right at Han.
In the 77th minute, Jena Kluegel played Rigamat down the right flank and she hit an early bending ball behind the defense. Milbrett was a half-step from burying the ball, but a Chinese defender got there first and almost kicked the ball into her own net, but Han smothered it. Milbrett had three chances in the final minutes, but bent one shot into the hands of Han and put two over the crossbar.
"What pleases me the most is that we got better from one game to the next," added Heinrichs. "China was tremendous, but our last half of the second game was our best half, and as a coach, you have to be pleased with that. Our players love to play China and love to play in this kind of an environment. It makes us play quicker and in the end, makes us better."
Defender Lauren Orlandos earned her first cap with the full national team, getting the start. The tie moved the USA's all-time record against China to 11-7-9. The U.S. team will not get together again until March when a similarly young squad will compete in the Algarve Cup in Portugal.
2001 U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Women's National Team vs. China National Team|
|Venue:||Dragon Sports Centre Stadium - Hangzhou, China|
|Date:||January 14, 2001 - Kickoff 2:30 p.m. Local (1:30 a.m. ET)|
|Weather:||Bone-chilling cold, windy -- 38 degrees|
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