Sunday, April 15, 2007

Forget NAFTA: US Women Thrash Mexico Cinco-Cero

The last time the US Women’s National Team stepped onto the Gillette Stadium pitch, Julie Foudy was captain and Mia Hamm played up front.

Oh, and the grass was real back then, too.

Now, some three and half years since their last Foxboro appearance – October 1, 2003 – many things have changed; Foudy and Hamm have since retired and the Gillette pitch has since become synthetic. Nevertheless, the one constant between that match and Saturday’s has been that little, unlucky-numbered train that could: Kristine Lilly.

For it was Lilly, in her New England homecoming, who would appropriately take center stage Saturday and score a pair of goals in the United States’ victory over Mexico, 5-0.

Hoping to open up the attack early, US manager Greg Ryan dispatched the unconventional 3-4-3 formation for the match, with a potent group of Lilly, Abby Wambach and Lindsay Tarpley up front.

The tactic paid dividends almost immediately, as Wambach exploded through the Mexican box and blasted a shot past keeper Sophia Perez for the game’s opening salvo in the 10th minute.

Exhibiting every aspect of a squad ranked number one in the world, the Americans relentlessly pressured and attacked the Mexican side of the field in the first half, thus giving fans in the Fort an eyeful of Wambach and her goal-crashing cohorts. With one assault after another, Number 20 & Company slalomed their way through the Mexicans like Alberto Tomba during the 1992 Winter Olympics.

It became apparent that the score would not remain 1-0 for very long. After acquiring de facto ownership of the Mexican side of the field, the Americans hammered goal number two in the 33rd minute, courtesy of Tarpley, giving the red, white & blue a two-goal advantage

As if the squad still had something to prove, the Americans stepped onto the pitch technically sounder in the second half, as the passing became crisper and runs became swifter.

Although the soccer gods may have quietly balked at the fake turf to which the match took place, they were clearly pleased with Lilly on this occasion. In the 50th minute, number 13 scored on a “right-place, right-time” shot, notching career goal number 120 on her native New England soil, er, synthetic turf.

The Mexican side, to its credit, did not just sit back and allow their American counterparts to pummel them completely. The green and red conjured their way through the American box on a handful of occasions – just enough to keep the match intermittently interesting - as goalkeeper Hope Solo was sparsely peppered with some obligatory shots. However, she would effectively keep the vault door sealed throughout the proceedings.

Although the clouds began to cast their gloomy shadows as the game progressed, there must have been just enough of a breach through the dark wispy willows to allow the gods to smile once more. Lilly, seemingly uncontent to sit on career goal number 120 for long, would strike for a second time on a brilliant, 36-yard volley that gracefully floated over the Mexican keeper.

During the 82nd minute, Ryan recalled his diminutive warrior to the respite of the sidelines, giving Lilly the standing ovation she so nobly deserved. As the Gillette faithful applauded their local hero, the hero would return the cheers with one of her own as she exited the stage.

It was only appropriate that less than seven minutes later, Lauren Cheney – Lilly’s replacement - would rack up her very first National Team goal in the 88th minute, giving the Americans the firmly-stamped 5-0 result. Surely, the soccer gods must have grinned in approval.

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