The U.S. Women’s National Team will begin its quest for a fifth Olympic gold medal on Wednesday, Aug. 3 (6 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NBC Universo) when it opens Group G play against New Zealand at Mineirão Stadium in Belo Horizonte. Before the 2016 Olympic opener gets underway, here are five things to know about the USA’s opponent:
New Zealand is participating in its third Olympic Women’s Soccer Tournament, having also played in Beijing 2008 and London 2012. While the Football Ferns failed to get out of the group in Beijing, they did draw with a Japan side who would go on to be world champions three years later. That point was New Zealand’s first on the world stage at a senior men’s or women’s tournament. Four years later there was another milestone as New Zealand secured a victory against Cameroon and qualification for the knockout stage before being eliminated by the eventual gold medalists USA.
The USA played New Zealand in the quarterfinal of the 2012 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.
One Year Later
The WNT most recently played against New Zealand on April 4, 2015, when a record crowd of 35,817 fans packed Busch Stadium as the USA cruised to a 4-0 victory in its first match on home soil before beginning its Send-Off Series and departing for the Women’s World Cup in Canada. Three of the four goal scorers in that game in St. Louis – Meghan Klingenberg, Julie Johnston and Morgan Brian – are currently on the Olympic roster in Brazil. Additionally, Megan Rapinoe earned her 100th cap, becoming the 31st American female player to reach the century mark in the St. Louis match.
New Zealand has 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 currently plays at Tennessee. Defender Abby Erceg plays in the NWSL with the Western New York Flash, while Bowen plays for FC Kansas City. Forward Rosie White played with U.S. Olympic alternate Samantha Mewis at UCLA.
New Zealand head coach Tony Readings, a former semi-professional footballer in both New Zealand and his native England, has been in charge of the Football Ferns since 2011. Readings boasts extensive experience with New Zealand women’s football, having been an assistant coach for 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 and the 2015 Women’s World Cup to a lengthy resume.