Wagner Nets Three Assists for U.S. National Team

Jan. 23, 2003

YIWU, China - The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team opened the 2003 Four Nations Women's Tournament with a rousing victory over Norway on an icy cold night, defeating their arch-rival, 3-1, on goals from defender Thori Bryan, forward Tiffeny Milbrett and 18-year-old striker Heather O'Reilly. Midfielder Aly Wagner assisted on all three goals.

Bronco midfielder Devvyn Hawkins also saw action against Norway, substituting in the 88th minute.

For Bryan, it was the first goal of her 10-year National Team career. For O'Reilly, it was her second goal in just 10 games with the full national team and for Milbrett, it was her 96th career score, putting her just four away from the magical 100-goal mark. Milbrett was named MVP of the match.

The USA got a taste of the atmosphere they will face come September at the 2003 Women's Word Cup as a loud and boisterous, but decidedly pro-Norway crowd of 27,000 fans cheered from start to finish, complete with massive, waving banners and huge, thunderous drums. The victory for the USA was the second in a row over Norway, after the 4-0 win on July 21, 2002, in Blaine, Minn.

The first goal came from an unlikely source as Bryan, a national team veteran who was playing in her 62nd game for the USA, pounded home a header in the 24th minute off Wagner corner kick from the right side. Bryan, who has one of the best vertical jumps on the team, skied to get a head on the ball, bouncing it off the ground, through traffic and past Norwegian goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelsmeth.

Norway played a 4-5-1 formation until the very end of the match, using midfielders Anita Rapp and Trinne Ronning to attack up the flanks, but for the most part, the USA kept Norway at bay as Joy Fawcett and Brandi Chastain did well to limit the touches of Norway's lone striker, Dagny Mellgren.

"It was a stupendous performance by Aly to get three assists against Norway, to set play the way that she did and to embrace our defensive mentality. The final pass was a missing ingredient in the first half, but in the second half she was putting the ball on people's feet. It's a really good sign when players can get better during the course of a game."
U.S. head coach April Heinrichs

As usual, the Norwegian back line proved tough to penetrate, but Milbrett broke through twice in the first half before Bryan's tally. The first chance came in the 12th minute when Milbrett caught up to a seemingly innocuous long ball in the left side of the penalty area and touched it past the surprised Hjelmseth, who had come out to grab the ball. Milbrett's touch took away her angle, but she raced to the end line and slid to hit her shot off the left post. The ball rebounded past the retreating defenders and back to Milbrett, who popped up off the ground to hit her second shot, but it was cleared off the line.

In the 17th minute Norway created its first chance as Mellgren got a step on the U.S. back line, but U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry was quick to come out and sweep the ball away with her legs before Mellgren could get a foot on it. In the 22nd minute, Milbrett ran onto a rolling ball in the right side of the penalty area and tried to shoot across the goalkeeper from 16 yards out, but Hjelmseth saved the shot with her feet.

Norway tied the game just minutes before halftime in typical Norwegian fashion, using one pass to get behind the U.S. defense and it came from midfield maestro Hege Riise. Wagner got double-teamed in the midfield and then was stripped by Riise, who took one look and sent a perfect through pass to Mellgren. Fawcett gave chase, but couldn't close fast enough and Mellgren slipped the ball past the onrushing Scurry and into the lower left corner on Norway's second shot of the game.

After Chastain barely missed on a header three minutes into the second half, Norway asserted itself for the next 10 minutes, and Anita Rapp hit the right post in the 51st minute on a shot that could have given Norway the lead. Rapp did give Norway the lead momentarily in the 55th minute, but her far post header was disallowed for offside.

Despite the constant high-decibel roar from the crowd, the Americans kept poised and slowly took back control of the game. In the 59th minute, second-half substitute Jena Kluegel ran onto a Wagner pass down the left flank, cut back hard into the middle and fired a 16-yard shot that was pushed over the crossbar by the Norwegian 'keeper.

Wagner continued to slice open the Norway defense in the second half and lifted a pass over the Norwegian defense in the 62nd minute that Milbrett just missed getting a toe on. Two minutes later, she set up Milbrett again, caressing a pass over the defense that skipped off the head of Monica Knudsen. Hjelsmeth started to come for the ball, then stopped, and was caught out, as Milbrett gathered herself in front of the bouncing ball and cracked a left-footed volley into the right corner from 12 yards out.

Scurry twice came up big to deny an equalizer, the first time in the 68th minute when a quick Norway free kick caught the USA flat-footed and Mellgren raced in on goal, only to take a bad touch and Scurry slid to smother the ball. In the 83rd minute, Solveig Gulbrandsen finished a fine dribbling run with a swerving 25-yard shot, but Scurry flew to her right to push it away. Scurry was sharp coming off her line to cut off the numerous Norwegian services during the match and Hjelmseth was also solid in the air at the other end

Norway pushed a player forward and switched to a three-back formation at the end of the game and it proved costly. Wagner served MacMillan up a one-on-one chance in the 83rd minute, but she procrastinated and a defender recovered to block the shot.

In the 87th minute, Wagner found O'Reilly behind the defense in the left side of the penalty area, but the star of the USA's Under-19 World Championship Team pushed her shot into the left side netting. Wagner was once again magnanimous less than a minute later, beating the offside trap with a perfect pass. This time O'Reilly was true, calmly finishing under jelsmeth into the left side of the net from 14 yards out. The three goals are more than the USA scored in three matches of the Four Nations tournament last year.

In the second match of the evening, officiated by American Sandra Hunt, China tied Germany 0-0 despite quality chances for both teams, both of whom hit crossbars during the game. The USA will travel to 2003 Women's World Cup venue Wuhan tomorrow and face China on Jan. 26 in its second match of the tournament in what surely will be an electric atmosphere.

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