BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — The U.S. women’s soccer team used goals from its two biggest stars, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, to beat New Zealand 2-0 in their Olympic opener on Wednesday at the Estádio Mineirão.
Seeking to become the first reigning Women’s World Cup champion to win the Olympic gold medal, the U.S. overcame a gritty New Zealand effort that made the Kiwis hard to play against, though they created few scoring chances in the U.S. end.
The win means the Americans will have the maximum three points when they meet gold medal contender France in their second group stage game on Saturday here.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
Lloyd and Morgan acted like they've been here before
The two big U.S. stars did what was necessary, getting on the scoresheet and preventing any drama, even though neither one had a truly standout game. It made me think of what Lloyd had said in an SI.com story earlier in the day: That the U.S.’s big-tournament mentality is a boost for the Americans and a hindrance for their opponents.
“I got this” is one of the main phrases that sticks out when you listen to the U.S. veterans and watch how they perform in environments like this one. This victory was more clinical than overpowering, but three points is three points. It’s worth noting that the U.S. back line has been here before, too, and posted another clean sheet.
Heath was the U.S.’s most unpredictable threat
Tobin Heath’s terrific technical and dribbling skills kept New Zealand unbalanced, causing the Kiwis to nearly cross the line on multiple occasions to scythe down Heath with dangerous tackles. Making her first U.S. start since June due to injury, Heath created the space for her cross to Lloyd for the first U.S. goal and beat her defenders several times on the ball.
With Megan Rapinoe still getting back to 100% physically, Heath is the U.S. player most able to unbalance defenses with her unpredictability—and that matters in the big moments. Also, Ukrainian referee Kateryna Monzul should have protected Heath more on some of the New Zealand’s heaviest tackles. (She did hand out two yellow cards for them, but there should have been more.)
Solo booed regularly by the Brazilian crowd
When the stadium boos first started for Hope Solo, I thought the fans were just unhappy about a couple U.S. backpasses to the goalkeeper instead of pushing the ball up-field. But the more the boos got louder whenever Solo touched the ball, the more it became clear that the Brazilians were unhappy with Solo’s pre-tournament Twitter post of herself in an elaborate mosquito-net headgear to combat the Zika virus. (They even chanted “Zika” on her goal kicks late in the game.)
Solo did apologize a few days ago, noting that mosquitoes had not been a problem at all here, but my guess is the boos will become a pattern during the tournament. In any case, it should stoke the U.S.-Brazil rivalry if the two teams wind up meeting at these Olympics.