The U.S. Women's National Team roared back from a goal down to defeat Australia, 3-1, on a sweltering hot day in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,276 at the National Sports Center. After giving up an early goal to Australian Danielle Small, the USA scored three times in the second half to pull out the win as Shannon Boxx, Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach found the net. Nineteen-year-old forward Heather O'Reilly came off the bench to record assists on the final two goals.
The match served as a preview of the USA's Aug. 17 meeting with Australia in the 2004 Olympics during the final first-round match in Group G, and both teams sent a message -- Australia with their gritty play and organized defense and the USA with its ability to light up the scoreboard with a slew talented attacking players. "We saw an Olympic opponent today and saw what their talents were," said Hamm, who was named the Chevrolet Player of the Game. "Australia has gotten better and better and their forward up top (Sarah Walsh) has to be one of the fastest players I've ever seen with the ball at her feet. They gave us a lot of problems today, but we are going to work on that."
The USA started the match in a 4-3-3 formation with Kristine Lilly, Cindy Parlow and Lindsay Tarpley as the forwards but couldn't get on the board in the first half. Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Abby Wambach and Shannon Boxx came on at the start of the second half and the USA attack immediately sparked.
"There were 10 or 12 things our list that we wanted to get out of this game and we saw a few of tonight," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "We had to come from behind, which was not in the plan, but having to face the adversity of giving up an early goal was good for the team. We got to play in a 4-3-3 system and I really liked our methodic approach to the second half. We were looking at the chemistry of a lot of players in their secondary positions and they did really well dealing with a young, high energy Australian team."
Just two minutes into the half, Boxx sent a bullet header just over the goal off a cross from Lilly. In the 55th minute, Hamm got possession of the ball in the left side of the penalty area and drove her dribble towards the goal. She then found Lilly with a great slip pass, but her shot was blocked by defender Cheryl Salisbury or it was surely headed into the net. The rebound bounced for a corner kick which led to the tying goal.
Hamm took the corner and launched it to the far post, where Boxx came crashing through traffic to get a piece of the ball with her body, knocking it off an Australia defender and into the net. It was Boxx's 10th career goal in just 25 career games, an exceptional goal tally from the defensive midfielder position.
O'Reilly came on for Aly Wagner in the 71st minute, as Lilly dropped into the midfield, and made an immediate impact. She got behind the defense in the left side of the penalty area in the 73rd minute, but her hard cross was blocked for another corner kick.
Just three minutes later, the speedy O'Reilly sprinted to win a long punt from U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry, toe-poked the ball past a defender and then played it to Hamm into the left side of the penalty area. In a vintage Hamm dribbling run, she scorched her defender while cutting inside, and ripped her shot into the right side of the net from 12 yards out for the winning goal. It was Hamm's historic 150th career international goal.
"It felt good," said Hamm of the goal. "I had my chances earlier on and my teammates were setting me up really well. Prior to (the goal), Abby gave me a great ball that I probably should have hit first time and didn't. But I got the ball and the 'keeper was out on her six, and I was able to get it over her head. When I was getting closer to this mark, I realized that one of the things I wanted to do before I quit playing was hit 150, and I was able to do that. Now I can concentrate on what I need to do for us to win in Athens."
Wambach added the clincher in the 81st minute and once again it was O'Reilly who was the catalyst. She streaked past a defender down the left flank with a nifty step-over move and spun a cross into the middle. The spinning ball took an odd bounce and eluded an Australia defender, who overran the play, giving Wambach position. She calmly let the ball run across her body and slotted it underneath Aussie goalkeeper Cassandra Kell for her team-leading 13th score of the year. Wambach's goal also upped her career total to 27 in 39 games.
"We're going into that time of the year where everything has to be with a purpose," said Heinrichs. "We have to find ways to win and advance through the tournament to get ourselves in a knockout round and hopefully get ourselves in position to compete for a gold medal."
Australia got its lone goal in just the 5th minute, but almost scored just three minutes into the game when midfielder Joanne Peters worked herself free in the left side of the penalty and fired a hard shot from a tough angle, forcing U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry to come up with a big save early, stopping the shot with her legs. The USA defense then cleared away the enticing bouncing ball.
Australia struck two minutes later as Heather Garriock slipped through the midfield and chipped a pass to the darting Small, who ran onto the bouncing ball in the left side of the penalty area and looped a perfect shot over Scurry and into the right side netting for the early lead.
"I really was (disappointed)," said Scurry of losing the shutout in front of her home crowd in just the 5th minute. "I knew on the goal that the way she hit it, there was no way I was going to get there. It has been awhile since I've gotten a shutout, but I'll take the win over that any day."
From then on it was all USA, as Australia dropped back in a bunker and challenged the USA to find a way through, which they did in the second half, eventually out-shooting the Aussies 17-6, although it took 50 minutes to find an equalizer.
"Our ability to come back in the second half like that shows that we have offensive firepower," said Scurry, a Dayton, Minnesota, native who got her first ever start in front of her home crowd. "The fact that we were shored up in the back and shut them out the rest of the way (after the goal) was good. We haven't played Australia in almost two years, so it is good to see where they are and gauge where we are because they are in our group (at the Olympics)."
It was the 20-year-old Tarpley that created the USA two best chances of the first half. In the 31st minute, Tarpley stole a ball from Aussie captain Salisbury and drove toward goal into the right side of the penalty area, but her hard shot on the ground across the 'keeper to the far post was parried away for a corner kick by Kell.
In the last minute of the first half, Tarpley collected a pass in the penalty area and spun around a defender, beating her on the turn. Her hard shot rolled wide of the far post, where Lilly tracked it down, but her hard cross was knocked out for a corner kick by an Australian defender.
The U.S. team will now go on a week-long break before regrouping on the East Coast on June 29 to prepare for their final pre-Olympic match on Aug. 1 in East Hartford, Conn., at Rentschler Field against China (3 p.m. ET on ESPN2) before leaving for Greece.