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US beats Ireland 5-0 - for the fifth time

Aby Wambach - © 2006 Roberto Bonilla
Abby Wambach fends off defenders from three sides in 5-0 win over Ireland

Roberto Bonilla

By Phillip Brents

WSPW correspondent

SAN DIEGO - Qualifying for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup begins in November. The United States women’s national team looks in fine shape to advance to its fifth consecutive tournament if the outcome of its July 23 international friendly against Ireland — a resounding 5-0 victory — is any indicator.

“We scored five quality goals. I am real happy with that and we created a lot of other chances as well,” USA head coach Greg Ryan said after the game, played in front of 3,574 fans at USD’s Torero Stadium. “We had a lot of young players on the field. I don’t think we quite had the rhythm with possession but I am always happy to see the goals go in.”

The U.S. squad, which improved to 8-0-3 in 2006, has a decidedly new look these days without familiar faces Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm and many of the team’s other veteran players from the first four Women’s World Cup tournaments. But this youthful collection of skilled players looks to create its cast of heroines before it eventually yields the field to another generation of players.

Ryan is also part of this new guard movement. He took over reins of the team in March 2005 and since then Team USA has gone undefeated under his leadership. The July 23 victory raised Ryan’s record to 16-0-4 as the team’s head coach.

Defender Cat Whitehill led the Americans’ attack with two goals while forwards Heather O’Reilly, Abby Wambach and Natasha Kai each scored once as the defending Olympic champions out-shot the unlucky Irish 36-3.

The result marked the fifth consecutive time Team USA has defeated Ireland by a 5-0 score.

Playing in a clearly 5-4-1 defensive formation, the Irish did not penetrate past the U.S. midfield until 10 minutes had elapsed in the contest, played in hot 86-degree temperatures, and challenged U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo (two saves) only late in the match when both teams had made extensive substitutes.

After several near-misses, Team USA finally broke through on O’Reilly’s goal in the 20th minute, assisted by Christine Welsh, and led 2-0 at halftime when Whitehill blasted in her first goal of the game in the 39th minute.

On the first USA goal, Welsh got past the entire Irish defense and dribbled the ball into the box to the near post before laying off a pass to O’Reilly, who scored from short range against Ireland goalkeeper Emma Byrne. The Americans’ second goal originated off a corner kick. Byrne made a heroic diving save on defender Tiny Frimpong’s initial shot but the rebound came directly to Whitehill, who promptly crushed the ball into the empty net.

Team USA added goals in the 62nd, 74th and 89th minutes. Wambach, who earned Woman of the Match honors, increased the U.S. lead to 3-0 on a spectacular diving header. Lori Chalupny drew the assist on the crossing pass. The goal was the 56th in her national team career for the 5-foot-11 Wambach.

Kai scored her fourth career goal in just seven international appearances by out-racing the Irish defense on a curling pass from Aly Wagner. Whitehill scored unassisted as the ball bounded between bodies in the six-yard box following a cornerkick by Wagner. The goal was the ninth for Whitehill — best all-time among American defenders.

The U.S. lineup was rounded out by defenders Heather Mitts, Christine Rampone and Amy LePeilbet, midfielders Leslie Osborne, Marci Miller, Carli Lloyd and Lindsay Tarpley and forward Megan Rapinoe. Only veteran goalkeeper Briana Scurry was not used in the match by Ryan. Fellow veteran Kristine Lilly, who scored in stoppage time to give Team USA a 3-2 victory against Sweden in an international friendly July 15 in Minnesota, did not suit up for the July 23 contest.

If many of the names sound unfamiliar, they are as a new generation takes over control of the fortunes of the U.S. women’s senior national team.

While an occasional Hamm T-shirt still shows up among loyal fans, those sporting Wambach’s number 20 are increasing in number — and with good reason. Wambach ranks seventh on the all-time scoring list, just four goals behind Shannon MacMillan (San Pasqual High School). MacMillan played for Team USA from 1993 to 2004, appearing in two Women’s World Cup and two Olympic tournaments. Of particular note, it took Wambach 64 games to notch 50 goals — second best all-time in the history of the women’s national team program behind Michelle Akers (48 games). It took Hamm, the world’s career scoring leader with 158 goals, 94 games to score 50 goals.

Part of the reason for the new-look lineup has been due to recent injuries. Midfielder Shannon Boxx was the latest to go down. She likely will not be back in training until January after tearing anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in her right knee.

“It took us a while to get in gear — to get that first goal. It helped that I scored it,” O’Reilly said. “There’s a certain amount of stress and anxiety that we as players feel. We knew that it was going to come but it (the first goal) helped reduce the stress. Things began to fall into place after that.”

The fifth FIFA Women’s World Cup will be held Sept. 10-30, 2007, in five Chinese cities. The U.S. will qualify through the North American and Caribbean region but will face its toughest competition against rising European powers. Sweden finished second to Germany at the 2003 Women’s World Cup while Team USA defeated Canada in the third-place match.

“All of the European countries are improving,” O’Reilly said. “All are committing more resources to their (women’s) national team programs. Every time we play them, they’re improved.”

Ireland is one European team that will not take part in the 2007 Women’s World Cup after being placed in a difficult qualifying group with Germany ad Russia. Ireland, however, has shown promise for the future after tying Scotland and defeating Switzerland 2-0.

“We are never going to be satisfied losing five-nil,” said Ireland’s Byrne, who allowed four of the five U.S. goals. “It’s depressing. Every time we play them it’s five. We were trying to keep them to three or four (goals). We’ve got a lot of young players. It looks good for the future. But it’s going to be a long way.”

As for where this younger, new-look U.S. side stacks up on the international scale, the Irish had a chance to act as a barometer after playing defending Women’s World Cup champion Germany last month. The Germans defeated Ireland by a 1-0 score. Irish coach Noel King called the loss a “moral” victory for his side.

Team USA and Germany played to a 0-0 draw in the championship game of the Algarve Cup in Portugal in March, with the U.S. squad falling to the reigning Women’s World Cup champions in penalty kicks.

“The U.S. team is very aggressive, always going forward,” Byrne said. “America is more direct. Germany is more clinical. America is more creative in creating chances.”

But measuring up against other teams doesn’t seem to be the Americans’ concern at the moment. It is how they measure up against their own program.

“We don’t really focus on how many goals we score against certain countries. We focus on ourselves,” Wambach said after the match against Ireland. “With Shannon Boxx (and other key players) going down to injuries, our younger players had to step it up. That’s pretty much what this game was about.”

So far, so good, it appears.

 Photo Gallery
 by Roberto Bonilla

Roberto Bonilla

 Goal celebration


 Goalmouth header

Aly Wagner (c) Roberto Bonilla

 Aly Wagner

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