The U.S. women's national team opened the "NIKE Road to Pasadena" tour on the same field it hopes to end it, defeating regional rival Mexico, 3-0, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final will be held at the stadium on July 10.
The match, the first-ever for the U.S. women at the Rose Bowl, marked the beginning of the nine-game "NIKE Road to Pasadena" tour that will take the USA across the country and into four Women's World Cup venues in preparation for the tournament that kicks off June 19 against Denmark at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.
The USA completely dominated all facets of the game, but a scrappy and organized Mexican team hung tough throughout the entire match, backed by a tremendous performance from 18-year old goalkeeper Linnea Quinones, who came up big on save after save, stopping an incredible 16 U.S. shots.
The game was a dramatic improvement for a Mexican team that lost 9-0 to the USA in Boston last September at the U.S. Women's Cup. Still, the Americans racked up some astounding statistics, out-shooting Mexico 42-1 and earning 24 corner-kicks to zero for Mexico.
It was on a corner-kick that the USA finally broke through, scoring 38 minutes into the game. The goal developed as the U.S. took a short corner from the right side. Shannon MacMillan beat a defender down the goal line and chipped a cross into the middle for Julie Foudy to head in from four yards out.
Mexico's one chance in the game was a good one, coming in the 19th minute after a through ball skipped by the U.S. defense and Maribel Dominguez raced in on goal. The diminutive forward shot from 15 yards out, but U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry leapt high to grab the ball, and Mexico never got that close to the goal again.
"Give Mexico credit," said U.S. coach Tony DiCicco. "They defended well and their goalkeeper played a wonderful match. We had a lot of good shots, and although two goals came at the end, I think it was a deserved result. I've said it before, but we're going to see teams bunker on us in the World Cup and we have to to be effective attacking the defense and breaking it down. We did a good job today, but we must get better."
Kristine Lilly added the final two goals in the 85th and 88th minutes as the battering from the U.S. attack finally took its toll on the Mexico defense. Mia Hamm created both goals from the right flank, the first coming when her cross was deflected to Lilly who buried her shot into the left corner from 16 yards out.
Three minutes later, Hamm's cross was poorly cleared by a Mexican defender and Lilly hit the bouncing ball on the half-volley, drilling it past Quinones into the right corner. The goals were Lilly's 68th and 69th of her career.
Hamm, who has gone scoreless in her last five matches, sits at 104 career goals, and will continue to chase the world scoring record, men or women, which is held by Italian Elisabetta Vignotto, who finished her career in the early 1980s with 107 career scores.
"I just want to help my team win," said Hamm, the USA's all-time career scoring leading with 81 assists to go along with her 104 goals. "I don't think about breaking the record. The record will come and go, but if we don't win the World Cup, it will have no meaning. Goals have never defined me as a player. What has defined me is my impact on the team. If that means passing or playing defense to win, I'll do it."
The U.S. launched numerous shots from outside the penalty box in front of a packed Mexican defense, but all flew over the goal or were controlled by Quinones, one of the five Mexican-Americans in the starting lineup, and a freshman at San Diego State. Mexico qualified for the Women's World Cup with a lineup strengthened by players from American colleges, including former U.C. Santa Barbara All-American Laurie Hill, who played a solid game in the midfield and sweeper Gina Oceguera of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, whose play in the back was instrumental in holding the USA to just three goals.
"I am very satisfied with the performance and with the character and fighting spirit that my team showed," said Mexico coach Leonardo Cuellar, coaching in just his third international game after taking the helm prior to Mexico's two victories over Argentina in Women's World Cup qualifying playoffs. "We have had a short preparation with the team, but I am confident that with the group of players we have, we will be a much better team in the World Cup this summer."
The USA whipped several shots just by the post in the second half, but could not break through until Lilly's two strikes at the end. In the 75th minute, Hamm busted through the Mexican defense, but Quinones snuffed out the chance, winning the ball as the U.S. forward tried to round her on the dribble.
"We knew we were playing one of the best teams in the world," said Quinones. "But we came out to prove to ourselves and everyone else that we deserve to be in the World Cup."
"This is a different team, with a different coach and a different attitude than the one that got killed by the U.S. last Fall," said Mexican captain Andrea Rodebaugh, whose team faces three matches against Brazil, Germany and Italy. "I know that we will be much better prepared for the challenge this summer."
It was the 49th consecutive win for the USA in full internationals on American soil. The U.S. team will now head to the ARCO Olympic Training Center in San Diego for two days before taking a week-long break. The USA will regroup at its Orlando, Fla. training center on April 7th to prepare for its next two matches on the "NIKE Road to Pasadena" against China in Hershey, Pa. on April 22 and at Giants Stadium in New Jersey on April 25.
March 27 in Pasadena, Calif.
USA 3 Mexico 0. Goals: Foudy 38, Lilly 85, 88.
USA -- Scurry, Fawcett, Overbeck (Pearce, 82), Chastain (Fair, 60), Akers, Foudy (Wagner, 73), Lilly, MacMillan (Whalen, 60), Milbrett, Parlow (Fotopoulos, 46), Hamm.
Mexico -- Quinones, Oceguera, Nanez, Ireta, S.Mora, Rodebaugh, Hill (I.Mora, 89), Leyva, Rosales (Perez, 20, Vergara, 68), Gerardo (Gonzalez, 73), Dominguez.
Referee: Kevin Stott (USA).
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