Lloyd's header steers U.S. women over Norway
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- For long stretches, the rhythm just wasn't there for the U.S. women. Their captain Kristine Lilly got them back on track.
Back in her home state where her career started 20 years ago, Lilly delivered a perfect cross pass to midfielder Carli Lloyd in front of Norway's goal. Lloyd responded with a diving header in the 66th minute to lift the U.S. women to a 1-0 win in an exhibition game Saturday night.
"[Lilly's] so smart. She puts the ball right in the one spot you can't defend," U.S. coach Greg Ryan said. "It was just perfect."
Lilly's 97th career assist came off a quick corner kick, leading Lloyd perfectly in front of a crowd of players facing the goal. Norway goaltender Christine Nilsen had little chance of getting a hand on the line drive.
The goal drew a roar from the crowd of nearly 10,000, many of whom came out to honor Lilly, the Wilton, Conn. native who has played in a record 328 games. The governor proclaimed Saturday "Kristine Lilly Day," and she was honored in a special pre-game ceremony. Her 123 goals are second in the women's game to Mia Hamm. Lilly acknowledged getting a little emotional when her pre-game introduction drew a thunderous ovation.
"It's always nice to come back to place that I started," Lilly said. "It was just a great day, a great crowd before we head off to the World Cup."
The win extended the Americans' unbeaten streak to 43 consecutive matches, a U.S. record. The Americans have not lost a game in regulation since Ryan took over in 2005.
The Norwegians were able, however, to contain Abby Wambach, the leading scorer on the U.S. team. Wambach has eight goals this year, including six in the last four matches. Her four-game scoring streak ended Saturday. Norway was without several of key members, who are still playing in Europe.
Norway coach Bjarne Bernsten said he was pleased with their effort.
"I think we're very close to the U.S. team that I reckon at the moment is the best in the world," Bernsten said.
The game was the Americans' third in a series of six exhibitions before World Cup play this fall. The top-ranked U.S. is considered one of strongest contenders for the 2007 World Cup, but the first round will present a tough test. The U.S. has been grouped with Nigeria, North Korea and Sweden.
The Americans were a little rusty taking the field Saturday after a two-week layoff.
"We felt like we needed to do it to give the players that extra bit of rest before we really start marching to the World Cup," Ryan said. "I think it showed today. What I really liked about this game was we fought so hard on both sides of the ball that we didn't give Norway much of a chance to beat us."
Lloyd's goal was her fifth of the year, but she's not counting.
"I don't play for the goals, I play to help my team win," Lloyd said. "I can pass the ball, I can dribble. I try to be that complete player."
And she was in the right spot when Lilly found her.
"[Lilly] had an unbelievable cross and no one was really paying attention," Lloyd said. "I found the ball and made sure it went in."
Saturday's game was the 40th meeting between the U.S. and Norway. The Americans have now won seven straight and lead the series 20-18-2. The Americans outshot Norway 14-10. Goaltender Hope Solo earned her 24th career shutout.
The U.S. wasted little time on the attack when Lloyd had a shot in the first 20 seconds of the game. It sailed wide and both teams settled for near misses the rest of the half.
The Americans had their best chances in the final five minutes of the period. With Norway goaltender Nilsen drawn to the right side, Lindsay Tarpley sent a left-footed looping shot toward a wide-open left corner of the goal, but defender Ane Horpestad raced in just in time to head it away in the 35th minute.
Lilly served up another near winner two minutes later, angling a kick toward the left side, but Horpestad deflected it and Nilsen finished it off with a diving save.
At the half, Lilly urged her teammates to fight through the sporadic play.
"We're going to see games like this where it's not going to our way, the ball's not going to pop in the net," Lilly said. "I said 'We've just got to play. Keep going at them and get some rhythm.' We'll get there."