It was a night of firsts and lasts – and a barrage of goals – at MAPFRE Stadium, as the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) hosted Thailand on Thursday night in an international friendly.
This was the first time the two countries have faced off in a women’s soccer match, and Thailand may want to rethink a rematch after the U.S. won 9-0.
The win was the final international game for long-time USA star Heather O’Reilly, 31, who recently announced she was retiring from international competition. O’Reilly assisted on the USWNT’s first goal and scored the third. This would have been a nice night of work, but O’Reilly did it in about five minutes – and stuck around to play into the 88th minute when she left the field to a big ovation from the crowd of 10,490.
As the fans chanted “Thank you Heather,” O’Reilly stood at midfield after the game and thanked her teammates and fans “for this amazing ride. I’ve spent half my life on this team and it’s the greatest honor anybody can ever have.”
O’Reilly retires with 231 “caps,” which is soccer slang for the number of games she’s played for the USWNT. This is the seventh-highest cap total in team history, and the mighty midfielder accumulated 47 goals and 55 assists, the team’s 12th and 5th highest totals, respectively. She was a member of teams that won three Olympic gold medals and one World Cup.
This was the first game for the USWNT since the Olympics in Brazil, where they were eliminated by underdog Sweden in penalty kicks after playing to a 1-1 tie in regulation. Goalkeeper Hope Solo was suspended for several games for making some disparaging remarks about the Swedes after the game.
Ashylyn Harris stared in goal for the U.S. and, well, she didn’t have much to do in her 9th cap. The USA was so dominant that Harris didn’t even touch the ball until the 34th minute when a teammate passed the ball back to her – and the crowd cheered this “important” moment in the game. This was her only touch in the first half. The first Thailand shot – a harmless floater from long distance – came in the 55th minute.
The girls of Club Ohio (a travel soccer team based here in central Ohio) were out in force to support the USWNT. About a dozen players, moms and a dad, gathered outside MAPFRE well before the start of the game to tailgate, kick a ball around and talk soccer.
“We got an email from our team about going to the game and we all got together and said absolutely we’re going,” said Kelly Bower.
Her daughter, Gigi, 10, is a forward on the team.
“I like kicking it at the goalie’s face,” said Kelly, who’s been playing soccer since she was in pre-school and has a strong, goalie-scaring right foot.
Her favorite player on the USWNT is…
“Ronaldo,” Gigi said of the Portuguese men’s star, a sentiment perhaps shared by millions of 10-year-old girls around the world. “My favorite on this team is Hope Solo.”
Kelly explained to her daughter that Solo had been suspended and wasn’t going to play.
“Then my favorite player is Alex Morgan,” Gigi said.
The girls of Club Ohio are serious soccer players, and practice four times a week. They recently began their season at a tournament in Indianapolis. Kelly dreams of one day playing for the USWNT.
“A 10 out of 10,” said Hailey Myers, 10 and the team’s goalie, of the excitement level of the chance to see the USWNT play for the first time in person. “They’re gonna win because we’re awesome.”
She was quite the prognosticator.
Hailey was excited to see “the new goalie” and “learn how to dive properly.” Unfortunately, for Hailey, and fortunately for the USWNT, Harris didn’t do much diving. But Yada Sengyong – the Thailand goalie – sure did, and actually did came up with several diving stops.
There’s a good reason Hailey chose to play goalie: “I don’t like to run.”
Thailand was the 50th country the USWNT has played since they began international play in 1985.
The game was the 17th win of the 2016 season for the USWNT. They have three ties and no losses (the Olympic loss to Sweden is technically considered a tie).
Carli Lloyd had her seventh international hat trick and added four assists. She now has 93 international goals and 47 assists.
Nine goals are the team’s second-highest total of the year. The women beat Puerto Rico 10-0 on February 15. For the year, the USWNT has outscored its opponents 67-7.
And yes, Megan Rapinoe did kneel during the playing of the National Anthem, a continuation of her quest to bring more awareness to social justice issues in this country.