In front of more than 16,000 fans at Candlestick Park, the home side flexed their muscle in the first half, the strength and pressing defence of Tom Sermanni’s side disrupting the New Zealanders’ attempts to build their possession phases from the back, resulting in a 3-0 halftime advantage.
But the Football Ferns grew in confidence as the game went on and were rewarded for their bright start to the second half as Hannah Wilkinson got the New Zealanders on the scoreboard.
Up against the 2012 London Olympic gold medallists, the New Zealand side – ranked 19th in the world – made a sluggish start, falling behind in the seventh minute as Megan Rapinoe curled a free kick around the Football Ferns’ wall beyond goalkeeper Erin Nayler.
Tony Readings’ team were 2-0 down five minutes later after a turnover playing out from the back was slipped into the path of Carli Lloyd who made no mistake in slamming the ball home at Nayler’s near post.
The Ferns grew more into the game from that point, building and retaining possession higher up the field with Hannah Wilkinson enjoying the Football Ferns’ best first half chance, seeing her attempted chip of United States ‘keeper Hope Solo saved from close range.
The crucial goal came with halftime approaching and the Ferns steadily growing in the contest, Christen Press increasing the United States’ lead as she lashed a loose ball into the bottom right corner from the edge of the penalty area.
The New Zealanders started the second half with more purpose, Wilkinson hitting the post from a tight angle before the University of Tennessee student pulled one back in the 54th minute.
After a quick switch of play to Amber Hearn, Annalie Longo slipped the ball into Wilkinson who prodded the ball in at the second attempt, giving the New Zealanders a lifeline but, despite improving in possession, the visitors were unable to craft regular scoring chances.
Heather O’Reilly completed the scoring for the Olympic champions in the dying stages, turning in the penalty area and firing in beyond Nayler.
Speaking from San Francisco soon after the final whistle, Football Ferns coach Readings acknowledged his side were slow out of the blocks, but highlighted the improvement of the team over the course of the 90 minutes.
“We were quite nervy in the first 10 minutes against a team who play at a different level from anyone else we’ve played this year,” Readings said.
“The United States make it hard to play the way we want to play but we got used to it and settled down nicely and it was disappointing to concede the goal late in the first half.”
“A lot of things did work for us today and in terms of keeping the ball and dictating it was our best ever game against the USA.”
Readings acknowledged several key performances across the team including solid contributions from Ria Percival, Ali Riley and Annalie Longo as the Football Ferns now look to Thursday’s second match of the series.
“The players are eager to get back out on the pitch and we’ll just look to get better,” Readings said.
The second match of the series is in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday 31 October, 12.30pm (NZ time).
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