The U.S. Women’s National Team will take on New Zealand twice in a pair of friendlies this fall on Sept. 15 (8 p.m. MT; ESPN2) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado, and Sept. 19 (7:30 p.m. ET; FS1) at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. Here are five things to know about the Football Ferns:
New Zealand is the current OFC (Oceania Football Championship) Champion. Of the 10 confederation championships that have been held, New Zealand has won five, including the most recent one in 2014, played in Papua New Guinea.
The competition has served as a qualifying tournament for the FIFA Women's World Cup since 1991, and will once again take place in 2018 as the teams aim for qualification for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
New Zealand players have numerous ties to the United States with veteran Ali Riley, who played at Stanford and currently plays in Sweden with FC Rosengard, having grown up in Los Angeles. Riley played in the WPS with the Bay Area FC Gold Pride (2010) and the Western New York Flash (2011), winning league titles in both seasons. She was the WPS Rookie of the Year in 2010 with the Gold Pride. Midfielder Katie Bowen played college soccer at North Carolina, while forward Hannah Wilkinson played at Tennessee from 2012-16. Twenty-seven-year-old defender Abby Erceg – New Zealand’s captain and most capped player with 131 caps – plays in the NWSL, also captaining the North Carolina Courage and is teammates with U.S. WNT players Samantha Mewis, Lynn Williams and Abby Dahlkemper. Meanwhile, Bowen plays for FCKC. Ferns forward Rosie White played with Mewis and Dahlkemper at UCLA.
New Zealand's and the NWSL's North Carolina Courage captain, Abby Erceg.
The WNT has shutout New Zealand twice in its two most recent meetings with a combined 6-0 goal advantage. In 2015, the USA defeated the Football Ferns, 4-0 with goals from Lori Chalupny, Morgan Brian, Meghan Klingenberg and Julie Ertz on April 4 in St. Louis, Missouri. Most recently the U.S. played New Zealand on Aug. 3, 2016 at the opening game of Group G at the 2016 Olympic Games in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The USA won the match 2-0 with goals from Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan.
New Zealand head coach, 41-year-old Tony Readings is a former semi-professional footballer in both New Zealand and his native England and has overseen the Football Ferns since 2011. Readings boasts extensive experience with New Zealand women’s football, having been an assistant coach during the 2007 and 2011 Women’s World Cups, as well as the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He also coached the New Zealand U-20 side and, as senior coach, has since added London 2012, the 2015 Women’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics to a lengthy resume.
Tony Readings has been New Zealand's head coach since 2011.
The USA has played New Zealand in the last three Olympics Games. In 2012, it was USA vs. New Zealand in the quarterfinal of the London Olympics in Newcastle, England, a 2-0 victory in which Abby Wambach scored early and Sydney Leroux added a late goal to send the Americans to the semifinal. The U.S. also played New Zealand at the 2008 Olympics, earning a 4-0 victory during group play to advance to the quarterfinals. Heather O’Reilly scored a goal 40 seconds into the match. O’Reilly’s goal is still the fastest in Olympic history. The teams once again played in 2016 in Brazil, this time in the tournament’s opening game for each side, with the USA taking the 2-0 win.