NEW ORLEANS – It isn’t the same as winning the World Cup, but winning against the team that knocked you out in the quarterfinals on their home turf had to provide some satisfaction for PR China.
The US Women’s National Team suffered their first home loss since 2004 with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of China in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Wednesday night. The match capped the US Victory tour to celebrate the squad’s World Cup title this past summer.
They were not the best team on the field but sometimes that is not what matters in a game. Abby Wambach was the focus of the match. The crowd that remained after the game to honor her paid tribute her was a testimony of that.
The US was determined to set up Wambach for one last goal in her illustrious career. It didn’t take China long to figure out that the U.S. was bent on giving her a goal though. You could tell that she is older but Wambach still gave it her all. The savvy veteran constantly found ways to get open and be a threat.
Wambach came close to placing one in the net in the middle of the first half on a couple of occasions. However, China’s goalie Zhao Lina decided to have a world class performance on the artifical turf. She turned the U.S. away time and time again.
The Americans had the clear advantage of the possession but China wa determined to keep the home team off the scoresheet. The first half ended scoreless and people started to figure out that this was no Harlem Globetrotters set up game with the Washington Generals. China was determined, looking to take whatever they could get offensively by playing just one forward and staying compact in the back. That gave the US several chances but Lina kept her goal clean.
The second half saw Abby play at a frantic pace. As the clock ticked away, however, it became obvious that she was no longer 21. She struggled to keep up with the pressing back four of the Chinese.
Then came the party pooper moment.
China was able to take it down the U.S. wing in the 58th minute when Wang Shanshan played the ball back towards the penalty spot. A waiting Wang Shuang hit a brilliant shot that beat Hope Solo for the only tally of the night.
From that point, the US had to focus on just salavaging a draw instead of getting Abby a goal. The WC quarterfinal between the two teams in Canada ended 1-0 with the US winning so both sides knew that a one goal lead could enough.
Wambach realized that she had better try to help her teammates score while China kept their focus on her. She ended up with a brilliant chance in the 66th minute when she flicked a free kick across the box towards World Cup star Carli Lloyd, but the resulting shot was again was gobbled up by Zhao Lina.
The U.S. was now playing at a frantic pace and it came time that head coach Jill Ellis would have to sub off the tiring legendary striker for the final time.
In a surreal moment, the game stopped totally as everyone paid their respects. Wambach gave the captain’s band to Lloyd, her heir-apparent as the leader of the squad. Coach Ellis put in her future stars, who then went to work but China now became even more compact.
In the 86th minute, Lindsey Horan took in a through ball and was able to finally get a ball past Lina. The crowd went wild but the offside flag was up.
Most of the game was played on the Chinese half of the field, but the visitors were aware of the most important stat of all in soccer. The final score.
The U.S. had over 80 percent of the possession, but the score was still 1-0. Finally, the final whistle blew and China celebrated a hard-earned victory.
I was glad that the fans there understood what they watched. If the U.S. had been focused on a team win and not on Abby’s retirement, then things probably would have been different.
Wambach Abby was honored by a large contingent of fans and everyone left happy knowing that they had a once in a lifetime chance to watch a legend bow out in style.
During her postgame speech to the fans, Wambach said she was off the Bourbon Street to celebrate her career accomplishments. Then she dropped the microphone and strolled away in satisfaction of a job well done far beyond this final friendly.
The official attendance was 32,950 to set a record for a US National Team game in Louisiana. It also showed that we have a bit more soccer fans in Louisiana and on the Gulf Coast than most people expected.
In the end, everyone in the ‘Dome tonight walked away a winner.