Rio Olympics: USA gets nerves out of the way

The USA's 2-0 win over New Zealand in their Olympic women's soccer opener extended its winning streak at the Olympics to 12 games, going all the way back its opening game at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That winning streak will be on the line Saturday when the USA returns to Belo Horizonte's Estadio Mineirao to face France.

1. USA overcomes early nerves.

The USA was never in trouble against the Football Ferns, getting a goal from Carli Lloyd in the 9th minute and Alex Morgan less than a minute after the break.

USA-New Zealand: Player Ratings

Besides Tobin Heath, who set up the first goal, Lloyd and Morgan, the other members of the U.S. front six were all making their Olympic debuts: Morgan Brian, Allie Long and 18-year-old Mal Pugh, who limped off early in the second half.

The performance was hardly perfect -- for all its possession, the USA fired off only 12 shots -- but got the USA three points it expected.

“The first game, there’s always going to be some nerves,” said U.S. coach Jill Ellis after the game. “I haven’t seen, to date, an exceptional first game from most teams because you’re settling in, you’re dealing with nerves."

2. Heath comes out of the shadows.

Many expected Ellis would start Crystal Dunn, who has 10 goals and four assists in 2016, up front, but she went with Heath and Pugh on the wings.

Heath's trickery and service gave the U.S. attack a boost in the absence of Megan Rapinoe, who is coming off a knee injury and not expected to contribute until later in the tournament. Heath, who is playing in her third Olympics, got herself open on the left side before lofting ball to the far post that Lloyd headed back across the grain and into the goal for her 89th international goal.

USA-New Zealand: Highlights

"We came out with a lot of energy and a lot of determination," said Heath, who has taken on more of a leadership role with the arrival of younger players like Dunn, Pugh and Lindsey Horan with whom she played at Paris St. Germain and now with the Portland Thorns. "I think in that regards we put our best foot forward and got that goal and I think that helped propel us throughout the game."

3. Backline shuts down Football Ferns.

Six players in all make their first Olympic starts for the USA: Becky Sauerbrunn, Julie Johnston and Meghan Klingenberg in the back, plus Pugh, Brian and Long.

Sauerbrunn, Johnston and Klingenberg started all seven games at the 2015 Women's World Cup and remain fixtures in the backline. Along with Kelley O'Hara, again preferred at right back over Ali Krieger, they shut down New Zealand as the USA recorded its 14th shutout in 16 games in 2016.

They will tested on Saturday, however. France rolled over Colombia, 4-0, in a game it could have won by a larger score.
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