Feb. 3, 2004
SHENZHEN, China - The U.S. Women's National Team dominated Canada on a cold, wet afternoon at Shenzhen Stadium to record a 2-0 victory, which combined with China's 2-2 tie with Sweden, gave the USA the championship of the 2004 Four Nations Tournament. The USA did not allow a goal in the tournament, finishing with seven points from two wins and a tie, and won the competition for the second year in a row.
The weather turned sour for the first time during the USA's stay in China as a steady drizzle fell throughout the match and temperatures dropped into the low 40s, but that didn't stop the USA from putting together a classy performance, getting an early goal from 20-year-old Lindsay Tarpley and a late penalty kick from veteran Joy Fawcett after Abby Wambach had been chopped down from behind in the penalty area.
"The thing I'm most pleased about is that we got better every game," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "The American teams want to go forward, we attack aggressively and sometimes we lack patience. During the course of this tournament, we showed great patience in picking and choosing the point of attack and as a result we got behind Canada upwards of 20 times tonight. If you can convert that statistic to chances on goal, you're going to win games consistently."
The Four Nations Tournament served as a bit of a coming out party for Tarpley at the full international level. The captain of the USA's 2002 Under-19 World Championship Team was the tournament's leading scorer with three goals and started all three matches.
The first goal came in the 13th minute, oddly enough, directly off a throw-in from the right sideline. Shannon MacMillan took it quickly and threw the ball into the penalty area to the cutting Tarpley, who let the ball skip past her body while rolling around Canadian captain Charmaine Hooper. Tarpley then darted towards the near post and stuck her shot through the legs of goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc and into the net from four yards out.
Heinrichs made four changes from the lineup that started the previous two games, giving goalkeeper Siri Mullinix the nod, but also giving first career starts to Heather Mitts at right back, to Leslie Osborne at right midfield and defender Amy LePeilbet, who played a stellar match in the middle of the defense with Fawcett.
"The young players stepped into a pressure environment in some of their first appearances for the National Team and positively impacted our performance," said Heinrichs.
Canada played in a 4-4-2 formation with star striker Christine Sinclair and 16-year-old Aysha Jamani up top, but both were outmatched in the air by the U.S. back line. The USA came out in a 4-5-1 formation with Shannon MacMillan at the point, but gave attacking midfielder Tarpley more freedom to roam and she took advantage, running all over the field to link the team together in the attack.
Although the U.S. did dominate possession, neither team produced that many dangerous chances. In the 4th minute, a Tarpley pass off a good rhythm put MacMillan behind the defense, but Sharolta Nonen ran her down to snuff the shot.
In the 39th minute, a nice combination of passes led to an attack down left flank where Tarpley slipped a defender's tackle in the penalty area and sliced a hard cross on the ground that was met by a sliding Shannon Boxx, but her shot was blocked.
Both teams played low-pressure defense, but the USA's possession in midfield was far better as Canada was content to launch a stream of long balls that were won well by LePeilbet and Fawcett with assists from Markgraf and Mitts.
As they did against China, the USA did not allow a shot until the 34th minute, but Canada's first and only shot of the first half did not have much pace and scooted over the end line far from the net. The USA did well to drop and absorb the Canadian service, and Canada, despite some dangerous attacks, only managed one more shot in the second half. It was a good one, though, as Veronique Maranda spun a shot just past the left post in the 78th minute when it was still 1-0.
"One of our team goals was to have three shutouts and it's a real tribute to the six defenders and two goalkeepers we played," said Heinrichs. "They were very focused on limiting shots on goal, not giving up goals at crucial moments and staying concentrated, focused and compact in the back. If you want to win games consistently, you have to focus on shutouts."
Abby Wambach replaced Julie Foudy at halftime as the USA went to a 4-4-2 formation and the Americans took seven of their 10 shots after the break.
Early in the second half, MacMillan bent a dangerous ball behind defense from right side, but Wambach overran it and tried a "donkey kick." The ball actually hit her heel and caromed toward the goal, but rolled over the end line.
In the 56th minute, a U.S. corner kick was cleared and dropped to Tarpley at the top of the penalty area. She collected the ball on her chest and then cracked a dipping volley that was acrobatically saved by LeBlanc.
In the 72nd minute Wambach plowed forward on a great dribbling run after a nifty step-over move, but was closed down by two defenders and LeBlanc, who smothered the ball.
In the 75th minute the USA had a golden chance to increase the lead as Kristine Lilly played Markgraf down the left flank and she hit a looping cross. Wambach kept the ball alive by challenging LeBlanc, who batted the ball to the ground, and Heather O'Reilly kept it alive with a toe poke. The ball slipped to Wambach, but she launched the ball over the open net from eight yards out.
Markgraf, who had an excellent tournament at left back and hit numerous dangerous balls in the attack, created the clinching goal, sending a perfect pass to Wambach behind the left side of the Canadian defense in the 80th minute. Wambach cut hard toward goal and was about to shoot when Marie-Eve Nault cut her down. Referee Zhang Dong Qing immediately pointed to the penalty spot and veteran Joy Fawcett stepped up to coolly nail her kick into the right corner, freezing LeBlanc on the line. It was Fawcett's 27th international goal, still the most ever by a defender in U.S. history.
"Joy was once again remarkably consistent from the first five minutes of a game to the last five minutes and from the first game to the third game," said Heinrichs. "You don't toss aside good players just because of their age. You look at veteran players like Joy and see that she is focused, performing at a high level and giving us great leadership. The rest of the teams in the world would be lucky to have a player of her experience, sophistication and speed at the back."
Lilly, Fawcett and Markgraf were the only players to play all 360 minutes of the tournament. The USA will return to the United States tomorrow and then have a little more than a week off before heading to Costa Rica in preparation for the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament being held from Feb. 25-March 5. It will be the first ever trip to Central America for the U.S. women.
"If you are going to prepare for Olympic qualifying in such a short time, there is no better way than 13 days of training and 12 days in China with games against three of the best teams in the world," added Heinrichs.
In the Sweden-China match, Therese Sjogran opened the scoring in the 31st minute, bending a perfect shot from 19 yards off the right post and in. China tied it in the 38th minute off penalty kick from defender Li Jie. Sweden took the lead in the 82nd minute as substitute forward Josfine Osqvist broke free on a breakaway, rounded the 'keeper and slotted her shot home from 20 yards away. Sweden looked to have a 2-1 win sewed up, but China tied the game in the 90th minute as Han Duan finished a rebound of a rebound, roofing the ball in crowd from eight yards out much to the delight of the Chinese fans. That goal and the tie gave China second place in the tournament with five points. Sweden was third with four points and Canada finished last with zero points.