Ferns fall to clinical USA

Photo: www.photosport.co.nz.

The Football Ferns put in a determined effort in the backyard of world champions the USA but again came up empty handed after a ruthless display by the USA at a packed Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.

Coach Tony Readings made no changes to his starting line-up and, like a few days ago in Denver, the hosts dominated possession in the opening half hour. But, unlike in that 3-1 win, they did not earn themselves an early advantage as the well-structured Ferns coped comfortably with everything that was thrown at them.

The States did create a couple of chances early on but local hero Rose Lavelle couldn’t convert in the opening minute while Kelley O’Hara – who is best friends with Ferns fullback Ali Riley and captained the USA in her 100th appearance in Denver – rifled a perfectly-hit shot just over the cross bar of Erin Nayler.

It was a special evening for the visiting goalkeeper, who joined Annalie Longo and Betsy Hassett – centurions in the previous game – in having a personal milestone to celebrate on this tour after bringing up her 50th cap for New Zealand. The pick of her saves arrived in the 10th minute as she pulled off an outstanding one-handed block to keep out an Julie Ertz flick and maintain the goalless scoreline.

Listen to audio from an interview with Football Ferns coach Tony Readings following the 5-0 loss to the USA

The USA found the net five minutes later after Samantha Mewis bundled in a loose ball from close range but the assistant referee’s flag was up and New Zealand went on to enjoy their best spell of the game soon after.

Their first threatening foray forward came on 21 minutes when neat interplay between Hannah Wilkinson, Rosie White and Kirsty Yallop released skipper Riley down the left. The flying fullback was able to send in two dangerous crosses in quick succession but Wilkinson couldn’t manage to get a clean header under pressure on the second of these.

Football Ferns captain Ali Riley plays the ball down the line. Photo: www.photosport.nz

The rangy striker was New Zealand’s goalscoring hero in Denver and, after notching all four of New Zealand’s most recent strikes against the States, is the only player to find the net in clashes with the world champions in the past decade.

The Football Ferns were able to build on their earlier attack on the half hour, putting the USA under a concerted passage of pressure for the first time. Riley won her side’s first corner after playing a double one-two with Yallop and, after that dead ball delivery, the hosts struggled to deal with successive crosses from Riley and Longo, allowing Rosie White to nearly get a header on target before Longo’s low drive on the follow up was blocked.

New Zealand’s hopes of creating an upset were looking promising but their bubble was burst in the 36th minute as Mewis launched an inch-perfect ball into the box for early substitute Lindsey Horan to loop a spectacular header over Nayler. The Kiwi custodian was beaten again just before the break as Horan turned provider, playing Mallory Pugh in to finish clinically past Nayler.

Despite performing more strongly than in the opening half hour of the previous match, that meant New Zealand again found themselves 2-0 down at the break and they were three goals behind almost immediately after play restarted, Alex Morgan tucking in at Nayler’s near post.

The 30,000 that had packed in to Nippert Stadium were now enjoying a great night out and they had more to cheer when substitute Lynn Williams climbed high to head home a cross and make it 4-0 on 55 minutes. It was five in the 69th when Morgan again showed her class by smashing in a powerful strike off the underside of the cross bar for a goal uncannily similar to the one she scored in Denver.

At 5-0 down at the home of the world champions, the Ferns would now have to dig deep to avoid a real blow out and they displayed impressive resilience in the remaining minutes, restricting the States to only a few more half chances but not managing to carve out any of their own at the other end.

They did put the reigning FIFA Women’s World Cup champions under pressure in the 73rd minute when Ria Percival picked out Wilkinson on the edge of the area but the player who has proved the States’ nemesis in previous games couldn’t bring a difficult ball down on the edge of the area.

By now, Aimee Phillips and Daisy Cleverley had joined 58th-minute substitute Olivia Chance in entering the fray and looked to inject some extra energy into New Zealand’s performance but could do little as the classy USA closed out an accomplished display to wrap up the two-match series with another win.

CJ Bott and Katie Rood also saw some action as late substitutes and it was a memorable moment for the latter, who made her first Football Ferns appearance.

Despite falling to successive defeats, coach Readings can reflect on the many positives to have been drawn from a tour he describes as the one of the most productive of his six-year reign in charge.

Match Details
USA 5 (Lindsey Horan 36’, Mallory Pugh 44’, Alex Morgan 46’, 69’, Lynn Williams 55’)
New Zealand 0
HT: 2-0

New Zealand: 1. Erin Nayler (GK), 2. Ria Percival (4. CJ Bott 86’), 5. Meikayla Moore, 6. Rebekah Stott, 7. Ali Riley, 10. Annalie Longo (8. Daisy Cleverley 80’), 11. Kirsty Yallop (16. Olivia Chance 58’), 12. Betsy Hassett (22. Katie Rood 90’ + 3’), 13. Rosie White (18. Aimee Phillips 75’), 14. Katie Bowen, 17. Hannah Wilkinson (15. Martine Puketapu 89’)
Substitutes not used: 3. Anna Green, 20. Malia Steinmetz, 21. Anna Leat (GK), 23. Victoria Esson (GK), 25. Liz Anton, 26. Jane Barnett
Cautions: Hannah Wilkinson 35’
Coach: Tony Readings

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