When the US faced China in a friendly on October 6, 2010 at PPL Park just outside of Philadelphia, the match was notable for a few reasons; Abby Wambach de-hotdogged some dude, roughly 12 people showed up to watch, and, oh yeah, Alex Morgan: Clutch Goal Scorer became a thing. Staring down the possibility of its first loss in six years, the U.S. trailed China 1-0 heading into the game’s final quarter of an hour. Morgan earned her third cap when she replaced Amy Rodriguez in the 71st minute, and tallied her first goal for the senior side less than ten minutes later, netting the equalizer in the 83rd to preserve the U.S.’s home unbeaten streak.
A year and a half later, and even after Abby Wambach’s very very very late equalizer against Brazil in the Women’s World Cup, those final 15 minutes still very much belong to Alex Morgan. Down 1-0 to New Zealand in front of a sellout crowd of 20,677 at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas, Morgan grabbed a pair of late goals to give the U.S. the 2-1 win. Hannah Wilkinson put New Zealand ahead in the 48th minute before the Americans stormed back, with Morgan scoring in the 88th minute and again in stoppage time to keep that streak alive.
Earning her second consecutive start, Morgan’s speed caused trouble for New Zealand’s back line from the opening whistle. In the 9th minute a blurry person wearing black that was decided by a Twitter-consensus vote of 4-2 to be Ali Riley (but possibly Rebecca Smith) fouled Morgan in the box. Referee Moo “It Would Be So Much Better If Her Name Was ‘Baaaaah,’ Because, Sheep, New Zealand, Get It?” Hackett pointed to the spot. Abby Wambach promptly rang the PK attempt off the post. New Zealand countered, with Wilkinson finding space behind the still-a-work-in-progress U.S. back four, but the Ferns striker sent her shot over the bar.
Morgan’s speed continued to be a problem for New Zealand, but the U.S. couldn’t muster much in the way of shots that didn’t go directly into an opposing player or New Zealand keeper Jenny Bindon’s hands. The Americans finished the half with a few shots that would have counted if this was the other kind of football, but alas…
Pia Sundhage replaced Hope Solo with Nicole Barnhart and Heather “I’m Going to Wear Short Sleeves Even Though Everyone Else Is Wearing Long Sleeves And Gloves” O’Reilly with Amy “I’m Going To Switch My Hairstyle So You Think I’m Heather Mitts” Rodriguez. O’Reilly had been well contained by New Zealand defender and “Umm, guys, I think we are all going to be wearing the same color” alerter Ali Riley for much of the first half, but the change did little to help the U.S. attack.
Instead, it was the Football Ferns who struck first. In the 48th minute Wilkinson picked up a very wayward back pass from Kelley O’Hara and lobbed a shot over Barnhart to give New Zealand the 1-0 lead.
The U.S. continued to attack, bringing beautiful setup after beautiful setup to a screeching halt with lackluster finishing. Wambach was rendered mostly ineffective with much of the service coming on the ground and Bindon was solid, saving whatever was sent her way – or, frequently, right at her.
But then, final ten minutes, Alex Morgan Time. A Rapinoe cross found Morgan, who headed the ball home to knot the score at one. Bindon did initially appear to make the save, but was behind the goalline when she caught the ball. The U.S. kept up the pressure and in stoppage time it was Morgan and her head again, this time redirecting a Wambach header off the post and past Bindon to give the U.S. the 2-1 lead, and a minute later, the win.
Overall, a solid showing from both sides. New Zealand, which still hasn’t officially qualified for the Olympics, appeared to pick up right where they left off in the draw with Mexico at the World Cup. Wilkinson, who scored that last-second equalizer in Germany, did well to exploit the U.S.’s high line. Defensively, the Football Ferns never gave the U.S. much in the way of threatening shots, thwarting several attacks that started out looking dangerous.
The USWNT continued the more possession-oriented game that Sundhage has favored lately, but the attack often fell flat. Wambach(‘s head) had few opportunities to go to work and although Morgan was often able to dribble or run herself into a good position, too often no one was there with her. The defense continues to be under construction, but wayward back pass aside, O’Hara still looks to be a serviceable option on the outside. Looking ahead to London, Christie Rampone, who earned her 250th cap in the match, will bring a veteran presence to whatever combination of players lines up around her. And with the Algarve Cup and then a pair of games in Japan up next, Sundhage still has plenty of time to tinker before the Olympics this summer.