July 31, 2012
CONSERVATION OF ENERGY
Looking to later rounds, U.S. takes it easy in the 2nd half of 1-0 win over N.Korea
By Michael Lewis
|Abby Wambach scored her 141st international goal.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
MANCHESTER -- The U.S. women admittedly took their collective feet off the pedal in the second half of their 1-0 Olympic win over North Korea at storied Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
They felt they had legitimate reasons: they conserving their energy for future games, glory and a gold medal at the Summer Games.
Striker Abby Wambach provided all the offense the Americans needed, connecting for her third goal in as many matches in the 25th minute as the three-time gold medalists finished the first round at a perfect 3-0-0 -- to win the Group G title -- for the first time in five Olympic appearances.
The U.S. already had qualified for the quarterfinals in Newcastle on Friday, when they will meet New Zealand, which advanced as one of the two top third-place teams behind a 3-1 win over Cameroon on Tuesday.
"We wanted to conserve our energy in the second half," Wambach said. "The quarterfinal was the most important thing. We knew we were already through. We put ourselves in a good position to go through. Possession was the name of the game in the second half."
There is no middle ground in the knockout round, no tomorrows.
"It's now or never - lose and you go home," Wambach said. "But this is the fun part. This is what it is all about. We came here for the gold medal and that's what we want to go home with."
Since the tournament demands teams getting only two days of rest, recovery and preparation time are at a premium. The four medal-round sides will play six games over only 16 days, with only two days of rest between games and 18 instead of the usual 23 players on a roster.
So, that means teams must plan ahead and plan wisely.
"We had the chance to save some legs in the second half and slowed the game down quite a bit," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "The players are not exhausted and that is a good thing."
Sundhage used all three of her substitutes, giving defender Becky Sauerbrunn her first action of the tournament when she replaced Rachel Buehler in the 75th minute. That meant every field player had seen action through the group stage, an important factor during the knockout stages, when players aren't coming in cold off the bench in key situations.
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe, one of the Americans' impact players in this tournament, was given a much-deserved rest as Tobin Heath replaced her at halftime.
"All we needed was a tie and we knew that, so our energy was a little low and we know how to pick it up and we know rise to the occasion," goalkeeper Hope Solo said. It's about peaking at the right time."
Despite the low key performance over the final 45 minutes, it was a night of celebration at one of the world's most great soccer stadiums, home to English Premier League power Manchester United.
The Americans dominated the first half, rarely allowing the Koreans to get in the attacking third, let alone close to the penalty area. They struck in the 25th minute, converting an Alex Morgan feed inside the penalty area past goalkeeper O Chang Ran for her 141st international score before a crowd of 29,522 in the first game staged at the home of Manchester United in 23 years.
The last time a women's game was staged here, 914 fans watched a team named Leso (which eventually became Everton) take on the Friends of Fulham in 1989.
"It was awesome," Wambach said. "So many us fans specificially came to watch at Old Trafford. It was a dream come true for a lot of us. It's amazing to have gotten a goal."
Nine U.S. players then joined hands for a celebratory arm wave while Solo and captain Christie Rampone did the worm 70 yards away. It was part of a birthday present for Solo, who turned 31 on Monday.
"I think Hope chooses and prefers the wins and the shutouts as birthday presents," Wambach said. It was great to get her involved. It makes us feel what the game is about. It's about fun. It's about laughing and enjoying it out there. How often are you going to say that you played at Old Trafford and scored a goal? We wanted to celebrate that ability and we wanted to do it with every player on the field and every player on the bench."
Rapinoe said the U.S. wasn't dissing the Koreans.
"The place that its coming from is joy," she said. "I don't think it is any kind of show off or in your face or to put the other team down. We're just out having fun and enjoying ourselves."
The Americans hope they have saved enough energy to enjoy themselves for three more games.