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Nov 28, 2012

Morgan leads U.S. past Ireland

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Alex Morgan was at it again, adding another chapter to what she calls "kind of a dream season."

Morgan scored 44 seconds into the match and the U.S. women's team went on to beat Ireland 2-0 on Saturday night. She also had an assist on Megan Rapinoe's goal late in the first half.

Morgan, who scored three times in the Americans' 5-0 victory over Ireland in Portland, Ore., on Wednesday night, has 28 goals this calendar year. Morgan and Rapinoe left the game in the 59th minute as interim U.S. coach Jill Ellis emptied her bench.

With three matches to go, the prolific 23-year-old forward is on pace to become the third player in U.S. history with 30 goals in a calendar year. The others are Abby Wambach (31) in 2004 and Michelle Akers (39) in 1991.

"It's great that I'm really close to 30," Morgan said. "I never imagined having this many goals this year. It's kind of a dream year for me. But we still have three games to go. This team has done tremendous this year. Abby and Christie Rampone have been such great captains."

Morgan scored on a shot from the left side found the net just inside the right post.

"She's just special," Ellis said. "She can set people up, she finishes, she turns well. Right now, she's just playing exceptionally well."

Ellis is filling in as coach until Tom Sermanni takes over in January.

The match, in front of a crowd of 11,570 in 63,000-seat University of Phoenix Stadium, was the USA's seventh in a 10-game "Fan Tribute Tour" for the Olympic champions. The final three matches are against China, with the first on Dec. 8 at Ford Field in Detroit.

The United States made it 2-0 in the 38th minute when Morgan again brought the ball into the left corner, then passed to Rapinoe just inside the 18-yard box. Rapinoe's left-footed line drive glanced off an Irish defender into the net.

Morgan earned her 19th assist of the year, fourth-most on the U.S. list.

The U.S. team had 14 shots on goal to just two for Ireland.

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo left the match in the 22nd minute after seeing little action at her end of the field. It had been a tumultuous week for the U.S. goalkeeper, whose new husband, former NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens, was arrested Wednesday in Florida for a probation violation stemming from his 2010 arrest for marijuana possession. He was released on his own recognizance Thursday.

Two weeks ago, Stevens was arrested in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, Wash., for investigation of assault following what police said was an argument with Solo, whose standout performances helped the U.S. team win the gold medal in London. A judge released Stevens after a court appearance, saying there was no evidence connecting Stevens to any assault. Stevens and Solo were married that night.

Solo said earlier this week that there never was a physical assault and that she and her new husband are happy.

"It's unfortunate what the media can do to judge before the facts are out there. It's hard to see, but it's a hard truth, and it's part of life," she said then. "I'm happy. I'm happily married. I would never stand for domestic violence. I've never been hit in my life."

Jill Loyden took over in goal the rest of the first half for the USA on Saturday night, then Nicole Barnhart played the entire second half.

The final two U.S. matches of the year, against China, are Dec. 12 in Houston and Dec. 15 in Boca Raton, Fla.

Ireland's Emma Byrne stopped repeated U.S. shots in a scoreless second half, including a diving deflection of Carli Lloyd's attempt, a line shot to her midsection by Wambach that knocked the 33-year-old Irish goalkeeper on her backside and a leaping stop of another Lloyd shot just below the crossbar. Byrne finished with eight saves.

"She's like a fine wine, she's maturing with age," Irish coach Sue Ronan said. "She's been around a long time but I thought she was magnificent tonight. It's difficult to come into a game after losing 5-0 against a very, very good team. Then when you go a goal down after a minute fearing the worst. ... Obviously they're very good, very strong, very fast, very quick and they're going to make lots of chances. When that happens you hope you have an inspired goalkeeper behind and that's what we had tonight."

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