Kai nets hat trick as U.S. routs Canada
WASHINGTON -- Natasha Kai had already scored two goals, and when another ball went off her foot into the back of the net, the reality of her accomplishment hit home.
It was the first career hat trick for Kai, who led the U.S. women's soccer team to a 6-0 win against Canada in a friendly at RFK Stadium on Saturday.
"My mind was just like, 'Oh. My. Goodness.' I'm still kind of shocked," Kai said.
Kai said it was her first hat trick since she played at the University of Hawaii. All three goals came in a 19-minute span in the second half when the Americans' lead went from 1-0 to 5-0.
"We knew we had a one-goal lead, but this is soccer," Kai said. "A one-goal lead is like a 0-0 tie. We just talked at halftime, saying we had to come out here strong."
Kai had the strongest performance, but she wasn't the only one.
Carli Lloyd scored in the 63rd minute, in between Kai's second and third goals, and Leslie Osborne added a goal in the 87th minute.
Everybody contributed," Lloyd said. "We just dictated the tempo. We kept it, kept possession and just played good soccer."
But after a first half in which the U.S. had several good offensive chances but came away with one goal, Kai's scoring touch led to the lopsided victory.
Her first goal came in the 54th minute. Lloyd sent a high, arcing pass toward Kai, who was on the edge of the 6-yard box.
Kai's header glanced off Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod and into the net.
Kai found the net with another header soon after, this time beating McLeod to a pass from Shannon Boxx in the 60th minute. She finished off the hat trick with a goal on Abby Wambach's third assist of the game in the 75th minute.
"Natasha's a goal-scorer," Wambach said. "Natasha's one of those players that can disappear for minutes on end, but when you put her in the penalty box, she's deadly."
Lindsay Tarpley gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute. Tarpley controlled Wambach's pass in stride and fired from the top of the penalty box. The shot found the upper-right corner of the goal, getting past McLeod.
That goal was Tarpley's ninth of the year, tying her with Wambach for the team lead. The spot at the top didn't last long -- Kai's hat trick gave her 10 goals this year.
Wambach, who needs five goals to reach 100 for her career, had a couple of near-misses on close headers, but was content to let her teammates take care of the scoring.
"In my opinion, there's nothing better than an entire attack where anybody can score goals," Wambach said. "I kind of took a back seat a little bit today and watched. The girls on this team are really great soccer players."
Saturday, Kai was in the spotlight. After the game ended, Kai walked to the stands, tore off her jersey and threw it into a mass of screaming fans, then moved a few sections over and started signing autographs.
"She was just wonderful today," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "You get inspired just watching her."
Sundhage, in her first year as coach of the U.S. team, said she wasn't always inspired by Kai. When Sundhage first watched her in January, she felt Kai had an unprofessional attitude and wasn't in shape.
In the months since, Kai's attitude has changed, according to her and her coach.
"I came into camp more fit, with my head screwed on straight," Kai said. "This is an Olympic year, we want to win the gold. I'm going to be professional about it and do what I've got to do to be a good teammate."
Kai gave the team a spark to stay undefeated under Sundhage -- the Americans are 13-0-1 this year -- in the final game of a three-game stretch in the U.S. The Americans will face Italy on June 15 in the Peace Queen Cup in Seoul, South Korea.
"We ended with a bang and won big," Kai said.