The U.S. women’s soccer team got back on track at the Olympics on Saturday in Saitama, Japan, with a 6-1 win over New Zealand.
To no one’s surprise, the Americans came out fired up to avenge their tournament-opening 3-0 loss to Sweden. In fact, they seemed overheated at times, with attackers flagged for offside four times in the first 34 minutes.
But Rose Lavelle broke the tension with a well-taken goal in the ninth, and Lindsey Horan settled nerves further with a close-range header off a corner kick in the 45th. U.S. First Lady Jill Biden watched approvingly from the VIP seats at Saitama Stadium, one of the only fans allowed in the building thanks to her official status.
A 63rd-minute Abby Erceg own goal forced by Carli Lloyd made the score 3-0, and the first U.S. substitutions came five minutes later. Sam Mewis replaced Lavelle and Christen Press replaced Megan Rapinoe.
New Zealand got a goal back in the 72nd from Betsy Hassett, who capitalized on some poor defending by Abby Dahlkemper. It was the fourth goal the U.S. has allowed in the Olympics, matching the total number of goals conceded by the team in all of U.S. manager Vlatko Andonovski’s 21-month tenure before the tournament began.
Lloyd exited in the 74th for Alex Morgan. Press made it 4-1 in the 80th off an assist from Julie Ertz, who played with her injured knee bandaged up but showed few ill effects of it.
Andonovski made his final substitutes in the 83rd, sending in Catarina Macario and Casey Krueger for their Olympics debuts to replace Horan and Crystal Dunn.
Morgan made it 5-1 in the 88th, and Press forced a C.J. Bott own goal on the game’s last play in the 93rd.
“We wanted to be aggressive, we wanted to play with urgency, we wanted to be intense,” Andonovski told reporters after the game. “We came here in this game with the right mentality and the right approach.”
The Americans’ odds of winning their group are slim, thanks to first-place Sweden’s 4-2 win over Australia earlier Saturday. Sweden faces New Zealand and the U.S. faces Australia in Tuesday’s group stage finales, both of which kick off at 4 a.m. Sweden only needs a tie to finish atop the group.
(The U.S. game will be on USA Network and Telemundo, and Sweden-Australia will be on NBCOlympics.com.)
But if New Zealand is able to upset Sweden, the door will creak open for the U.S. to jump into first place. Those late goals cut Sweden’s goal difference over the U.S. to three, from plus-5 to plus-2 — a reminder that running up the score in women’s soccer isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged.
If Sweden wins and the U.S. beats or ties Australia, the Americans would finish second in Group G thanks to goal difference (plus-2 to minus-1) and face Group F’s winner in the quarterfinals. The group winner faces a third-place team from Group E or F.
The Netherlands is currently atop Group F on goal difference over Brazil, with each team holding 4 points after they played each other to a wild 3-3 tie on Saturday.
Vivianne Miedema scored two great goals for the Netherlands, but made an even bigger headline when she left the game injured in the 89th minute. The extent of the injury isn’t yet known.
Group F finishes Tuesday with the Netherlands facing China (7:30 a.m., NBCOlympics.com) and Brazil facing Zambia (7:30 a.m., Telemundo).