The U.S. women's national team earned a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Finland on a hot, windy day at the University of Tampa's Pepin/Rood Stadium as defender Joy Fawcett and forward Mia Hamm set up each other for the USA scores.
The USA dominated possession and did well to maneuver through the packed Finland defense to out-shoot the Europeans 25-1 for the match. Still, it took a set play to get the first goal as the Americans scored off a corner-kick in the 29th minute.
Hamm drove her cross to the near post where Fawcett met the ball off a slashing run and re-directed it into the net with her head from three yards out. The U.S. defender only slightly changed the trajectory of the ball with her glancing header, but it surprised Finland goalkeeper Johanna Lindell, and the ball flew in just past the near post for Fawcett's 18th international goal.
"It was a solid performance by the USA, in that we were totally in control of the game, but we still need to get sharper in a bunch of areas," said U.S. coach Tony DiCicco. "Still, we have to get accustomed to producing goals against any style of play because when we get the Women's World Cup this summer, we'll encounter teams just playing for a result against us. We need to be able to break a team down earlier and put the game away."
The USA did manufacture numerous chances, but shot high or saw Lindell deny them with several great saves. In the 42nd minute, Julie Foudy got behind the Finland defense, but as Lindell charged, she cut her cross back into the middle. A retreating Finland defender got a foot on the ball, and sent it back to Foudy, whose shot was then cleared off the line. In the 33rd minute Hamm got behind the defense and slotted a cross into the middle where Kristine Lilly met the ball with a sliding shot that flew just over the upper right corner. In the 50th minute, Brandi Chastain's blast from 25-yards out was tipped over the top by flying Lindell.
The USA finally got its second goal in the 58th minute when a nifty combination in the penalty box ended with Fawcett returning the favor to Hamm. Fawcett drew the goalkeeper to the near post and squared a pass for the USA's all-time leading scorer to knock in from three yards out. It was Hamm's 104th career international goal, putting her five short of breaking the world scoring record held the long-retired Elisabetta Vignotto, who scored 108 international goals for Italy.
"We struggled a bit, but its hard to find your rhythm against teams that drop back and play defense," said U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy. "We need to play some teams that stretch us a bit more, and that's why we're all excited for the Algarve Cup. Those games will be a great test and valuable preparation for the World Cup."
With midfielder Michelle Akers out with a broken cheek bone suffered against the FIFA World Stars on Feb. 14 in San Jose, Calif., Tisha Venturini got the start and played the first half, in which she had several scoring chances. Venturini came out at halftime and was replaced by 18-year old Aly Wagner, who earned her third cap for the USA with a solid 45 minutes. Forward Cindy Parlow, the consensus college player of the year for 1998, also got her first significant minutes of the year after nursing a hamstring injury from her college season. She played 32 minutes and came close to scoring on a long shot in the 63rd minute that was saved by Lindell.
The USA now returns to its Orlando, Fla. training camp for eight days of training before leaving for the Algarve Cup in Portugal, starting on March 14 with a match against Sweden. The USA will face Finland again on March 16 and finish first-round play with defending Women's World Cup champion Norway on March 18. The Americans will then play a medal game on March 20th.
After the Algarve Cup, the American women take a week off and then re-group in Los Angeles to begin the "NIKE Road to Pasadena" tour, beginning March 28 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, ,Calif. with a match against Mexico. The game will be played as part of a doubleheader with the Los Angeles Galaxy and kicks of at 5 p.m. PT, live on ESPN.
Feb. 27 in Tampa, Fla.
USA 2 Finland 0. Goals: Fawcett 29, Hamm 58.
USA -- Scurry, Fawcett, Sobrero, Overbeck, Pearce (Fair, 46), Chastain, Foudy, Venturini (Wagner, 46), Milbrett (Fotopoulos, 58), Lilly (Parlow, 58), Hamm (MacMillan 58).
Finland -- Lindell, Uusmalmi, Makinen, Valkonen, Forssell, Kalmari, Uusi-Luomalahti, Heikari (Mustonen, 46), Lappi-Seppala, Nokso-Koivisto, Ylitalo.
Yellow cards: USA -- Fotopoulos 73; Finland -- Uusi-Luomalahti 65.
Referee: Sandra Hunt (USA).
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