Story by Matt Young. Photos by Suzie Wolf.
Cary, NC – It was a record crowd (5323) for women’s soccer at WakeMed Soccer Park tonight. The 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team, ranked number 1 in the world, faced off against number 4 Japan.
UNC Tarheel and National Team legend Mia Hamm was present. Indeed the crowd had more than the average smattering of Tarheel blue in it perhaps because of the preponderance of Carolina alums (7) playing for the team, including star of the game and 3-time NCAA Champion Heather O’Reilly.
Family Atmosphere, Great Venue, Respect For Our Guests
The crowd was filled with smiling faces – largely families and kids from local soccer clubs wearing their Rec, Challenge and Classic team jerseys.
U.S. Team coach and North Carolina native Pia Sundhage said a few words to the crowd from the field.
The crowd was asked to bow their heads in honor of the victims of the recent tsunami tragedy in Japan. Announcements were made explaining ways donations can be given to the suffering population of Japan through the Red Cross.
The venue is a nice one. WakeMed Soccer Park is clean, and the field is terrific.
The two teams’ starters lined up and faced the crowd, as is customary in soccer matches. The Japanese team bowed to the fans as their names were called, the Americans waved.
U.S.A. – 2, Japan – 0
Women’s soccer is great, folks.
The skill level of play is high, the game is fast.
The Japanese Team was quick and relied on fast breaks. The U.S.A. team had an obvious size advantage and better ball movement and play set-up. The average player for Japan was 5’3″ tall. The two starting forwards, Shinobu Ohno and Mana Iwabuchi are listed at 5’1″. High balls were consistently won by the Americans. The Japanese team was up to the task though, and made up for the lack of size with hustle (and lots of sliding tackles) to make for an exciting game.
The beginning of the first half was dominated by the U.S.A. with several good chances to score. The Japanese team got more than its fair share of offsides calls, a product of their strategy to make long passes toward the goal mouth and attempt to chase them down.
In the 28th minute forward Abby Wambach set up a textbook play – passing to forward Heather O’Reilly who brought the ball along the end line to the right of the goal and crossed the ball to forward Amy Rodriguez. Rodriguez shot the ball, scoring off the hands of Japan’s goalie, Ayumi Kaihori. Rodriguez also scored in the U.S.A. defeat (2-0) of Japan in Columbus, Ohio 4 days earlier. But is was clear that Wambach is key as this team’s playmaker.
The second half of the game began with lots of “near misses” by the Americans. In the 69th minute, U.S.A. put the game away with an O’Reilly goal fed by midfielder Carly Lloyd.
Said O’Reilly : “I am so happy to be back here in Cary. This crowd was awesome. I absolutely love this place. There is such a supportive fan base.”
After the game the sideline fences were swarming with tweens, mostly girls, calling players’ names for autographs, which they obliged. These players are their heroes, it was obvious. I handed my notepad to one desperate little girl looking for something to get autographed. She thanked me and handed the sheets of paper to her friends.
Cary saw a great team play tonight. The world will see them as a force to be reckoned with at the World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany in July.