U.S. Women: Akers hits 99th goal in closed-door win over Portugal

Midfielder Michelle Akers scored the 99th goal of her international career and forward Kristine Lilly scored the first hat-trick of her career as the U.S. women's national team opened its 1999 season with a bang, dominating Portugal in a 7-0 closed-door victory at the Seminole County Training Center, home of the USA's residency camp. The match marked the beginning of the USA's five-month march to the Women's World Cup this summer. Akers scored her goal in the 41st minute, setting up a possible historic 100th score this Saturday at Lockhart Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale as the USA meets Portugal again. The match will be televised live on ESPN at 2 p.m. ET. With one more score, Akers will join just three other players to net 100 career international goals; teammate Mia Hamm, who scored her 102nd goal in the 45th minute, and Italian legends Carolina Morace (105) and world record holder Elisabetta Vignotto (108), who are both retired. Playing its first match after opening residency training camp three weeks ago, the USA lacked crispness in the attacking third to start the match, but dominated the game territorially for 90 minutes. The Americans denied Portugal a shot on goal and forced goalkeeper Carla Cristina to make 16 saves, several of which were spectacular. The U.S. team finally broke through with back-to-back goals in the 32nd and 33rd minutes. The opening goal came when Joy Fawcett was fouled at the top of the penalty box. Lilly placed the ball down quickly and within seconds after the referee blew the whistle for the foul, Brandi Chastain ran onto the ball and cracked her left-footed free-kick into the left corner from 20 yards out, catching Carla Cristana totally unprepared. Lilly added the second goal one minute later, taking a pass from Tiffeny Milbrett at the top of the penalty box and hitting a swerving left-footed shot into the upper left corner. "I think the team was so excited to play a match, that we lost focus a bit in the beginning of the game, but once we clicked, there were some outstanding performances," said U.S. coach Tony DiCicco. "Kristine Lilly and Brandi Chastain had great games and almost every one else played very well. There were no defensive breakdowns and we really moved the ball around at pace for the whole game." Akers scored her goal on a thunderous volley off a Mia Hamm cross after the Portuguese defense mysteriously left the 5-foot-10 midfielder unmarked in the penalty box. Hamm added the fourth goal in the 45th minute when she received a beautiful driven 40-yard pass from Carla Overbeck on the left wing, then dribbled across the top of the penalty box before slotting her shot into the left corner. Lilly added her second goal in stoppage time of the first half, redirecting a bouncing shot into the net from close range. DiCicco made five substitutes at halftime, bringing on goalkeeper Saskia Webber, defender Christie Pearce, midfielder Tisha Venturini and forwards Danielle Fotopoulos and Shannon MacMillan. "We didn't lose anything when we made changes in the lineup," said DiCicco. "We have players that give us great depth and we must continue to cultivate that to stay at the top. As we move towards the World Cup, it's crucial to have players coming off the bench that keep up the level of our game, or if a reserve is especially hot, bring up the level." Lilly completed her hat trick in the 58th minute after Joy Fawcett skinned her defender down the right flank and served a cross on the ground all the way to the far post. Lilly slid to bury the ball in the net from three yards out for her 64th international goal in her world record 164th international match. "At the start of the game, we weren't as aggressive as we needed to be," Lilly admitted. "We need to attack teams right from the beginning, but we've got a lot of games before the World Cup, and we will get better." MacMillan added the final goal in the 81st minute when Fotopoulos put her behind the defense with a nifty flick pass. MacMillan bent the ball around the sliding goalkeeper for her 15th career goal. "It's tough to play the same team two games in a row," said Chastain. "But we have so many areas to improve in, and we didn't finish our chances in the second half. We should have scored a few more goals. We'll use the game on Saturday as one more step to where we want to be at the World Cup. We want to improve every game." The USA has now gone unbeaten on American soil in 45 straight matches, a team record. Following the match this Saturday, the USA will take a week break before regrouping for a week of training in Florida and then will depart for San Francisco in preparation for the match against the FIFA World Stars as part of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final Draw. The USA will play the FIFA World Stars on Feb. 14, 1999, at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif., with the Final Draw being conducted at halftime. An extensive 1999 schedule to prepare the USA for the Women's World Cup will be announced in February. Jan. 27 in Orlando, Fla. USA 7 Portugal 0. Goals: Chastain 32, Lilly 33, 45, 58, Akers 41, Hamm 45, MacMillan 81. USA -- Ducar (Webber, 46), Overbeck, Sobrero, Fair (Pearce, 46), Fawcett, Chastain, Foudy, Akers (Venturini, 46), Lilly, Milbrett (Fotopoulos, 46), Hamm (MacMillan, 46). Portugal -- Carla Cristina, Sandra Silva, Be, Ana Rita (Celisa, 56), Adilia, Maria Joao Xavier (Paula Oliveira, 83), Paula Reis, Sonia Silva, Rosalina (Susana Martins, 66), Patricia (Paula Cristina, 68), Edite (Susy, 76). Att.: n/a (closed-door match).
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