SAITAMA, Japan — After a stunning loss in the opener, the U.S. women’s soccer team vowed to be ruthless against New Zealand.
And they rebounded in a big way.
The Americans cruised to a 6-1 rout of New Zealand in front of First Lady Jill Biden at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.
With the United States leading 2-0 at the break, Biden arrived in time to watch the team put the game away in the second half at Saitama Stadium.
The United States was blanked by Sweden 3-0 in the opener. It was the team’s first loss since January 2019 and snapped a 44-game unbeaten streak. The Americans had not been held scoreless since 2017.
But the Americans vowed to regain control of the tournament. Defender Kelley O’Hara said the United States needed to be “ruthless” against New Zealand.
“Sweden was a very good team and we didn’t play our best, and when you do that up against a top opponent, they’re going to punish you. So that wasn’t our best performance,” Crystal Dunn said. “I think we came into Game 2 knowing that we don’t go from being a really great team two days ago to not being a great team anymore.”
Rose Lavelle scored off a well-placed pass from Tobin Heath in the ninth minute to give the United States an early lead — and the team’s first goal of the Olympics. Despite the lack of goals, the Americans dominated the half, unlike their out-of-sorts start against the Swedes.
Lindsey Horan scored with a header in the final moments of the half to put the United States up 2-0 at the break. It was Horan’s 23rd international goal and it came on her milestone 100th appearance for the national team.
Horan called it surreal: Her 100th cap while the First Lady looked on in an otherwise empty stadium.
“I think my approach going into this game — obviously it’s in the back of your head that you’re getting your 100th cap — but I didn’t want that to be a factor today, Horan said. “I think we wanted to get the job done and my focus was doing whatever I possibly could to help the team win. I’m happy to get a goal and yeah, it’s nice to have a fan in the stands, too.”
It could have been worse for New Zealand but the United States had four disallowed goals, all for offside, in the first half.
An own-goal by Abby Erceg extended the U.S. lead to 3-0 in the 64th minute. New Zealand avoided the shutout with Betsy Hassett’s goal in the 72nd.
Christen Press, who came in as a second-half substitute, scored from the center of the box in the 80th off a feed from Red Stars’ own Julie Ertz, before Alex Morgan scored in the final minutes of regulation. Another New Zealand own-goal closed out the game in stoppage time.
“Look, from our perspective I thought we had a terrific 80 minutes and unfortunately the last 10 minutes kind of let us down a little bit on the scoreline,” New Zealand coach Tom Sermanni said. “From an effort perspective, you can’t fault the players, they gave blood sweat and tears on the field tonight to come up against a very good team.”
U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski made five changes to the starting lineup he used against Sweden, giving Carli Lloyd the start over Morgan, Megan Rapinoe for Press, Ertz for Sam Mewis, Emily Sonnett for O’Hara, and Red Stars’ Tierna Davidson for captain Becky Sauerbrunn.
The United States, the reigning World Cup champion, has been to every Olympics since women’s soccer joined the event in 1996. The world’s top-ranked team has five gold medals, more than any other nation.
The U.S. also lost the first match of the 2008 Beijing Games, falling to Norway 2-0, but went on to win the gold.
Their nemesis at the Olympics has been Sweden, which booted the Americans from the Rio de Janeiro Games in the quarterfinals five years ago.
“I think we were a little bit more composed, a little bit more patient on the ball this game, and we know it’s going to be challenging chasing that gold medal,” Dunn said. “So we’re not taking anything for granted.”
New Zealand lost to Australia 2-1 in its opening match and the Ferns’ chances of reaching the knockout round grew slim with Saturday’s loss.
New Zealand had not played any matches since March 2020 because of coronavirus restrictions.