SANDY — United States National Team forward Abby Wambach had scored 104 international goals coming into Wednesday night's friendly with Mexico. Even with finding the back of the net that many times there was still something unique about No. 105 — the celebration.
"We were walking out before the game started and I said, 'If anybody scores, snow angels for sure.' If we got No. 2 it was going to be a snowball fight," said Wambach of her tally in the 60th minute of the American's 1-0 win. "So the snow angels were great. We as a team probably struggle to celebrate well, so I'm proud of us for following through with what we said we were going to do."
The U.S. had never lost to Mexico in 24 previous games, but ever if there were conditions that could have presented the chance for an upset they were present at Rio Tinto Stadium Wednesday night. A heavy snowfall left three or four inches of snow blanketing the field. The normal ball-controlling, passing-emphasis attack of the U.S. was basically nullified.
"Usually we have a game plan, but we had to rethink and play everything forward," said coach Pia Sundhage. "Even though I say that, you want to play forward and put pressure on them behind the backline, still you could see a couple of passes where we completed them on the flanks."
Even with the more forward-thinking attack, the U.S. still controlled long stretches of possession and dominated the run of play. Over and over the Americans pressed forward and created scoring chances.
"It was a hard game to stay patient, to wait for those moments, those opportunities," said Wambach. "We got a lot of opportunities, but whether they were good opportunities, that is for someone else to decide."
There were plenty of good chances. In the seventh minute, forward Amy Rodriguez broke free, but Mexican keeper Erika Vanegas raced out and made the first of many terrific saves on the night. The 19th minute saw Wambach hit a shot that looked destined for the back of the net, but Vanegas got just a piece of the ball to deflect it wide. Kristine Lilly — who earned her 344th cap in the start — would like to have her chance back she hit over the top in the 23rd minute. In all, the U.S. fired 12 shots compared to one for the Mexicans in the first half.
The second half saw much of the same as scoring chances continued to pile up for the Americans. Wambach finally was able to "break the ice" in the 60th minute as she tapped in a beautiful cross from team captain Shannon Boxx.
"I am actually pretty surprised we got that goal," said Wambach. "We were definitely knocking on their door for quite a while, but these conditions were probably the worst I ever played under, but it just goes to show the kind of team that we have."
"We said to try not to play too much through the midfield, get it forward as soon as possible and then make runs off the forwards," said Boxx. "I think you kind of saw that on the goal as well, just us trying to get off the forwards."
Following the goal, the team continued to dominate the attack and allowed very little for the Mexican side going forward.
"Credit to our defense," added Boxx. "They never got behind us, which helped so we weren't too cautious (because) of that. I think our defenders did a great job."
The U.S. outshot Mexico 20-4, including 13-2 on target. Things may have been difficult under the conditions, but there was still one very big positive the team could take away from the friendly.
"We wanted to have fun, but we also wanted to play to win," said Lilly. "That is the great thing about this team, every time we step out on the field we play to win. Whether it is muddy, rainy breezy, snowy we play to win. Getting a win was really good for us."
A win was great, but expected. Now snow angels during a soccer game on the other hand ...
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