NASHVILLE, Tenn. (July 3, 2004) – The U.S. Women’s National Team put in a wonderful attacking performance that produced numerous chances, but just one goal, to win another hard-fought battle with border rival Canada, 1-0. Unlikely hero Heather Mitts scored her first career goal in the 73rd minute, lunging to knock in her shot from point-blank range off a Shannon Boxx header in front of 9,110 fans at The Coliseum in Nashville.
The match was the team’s first in the city of Nashville and the first since U.S. head coach April Heinrichs named the 18-player 2004 U.S. Women’s Olympic Women’s Soccer Team on July 1.
“We have to give Canada credit,” said U.S. forward Mia Hamm. “They take pride in their physical play, so we had to battle for every scoring opportunity we had tonight.”
The USA built up a shot margin of 20-8 on the night and had Canada chasing for most of the 90 minutes with a dynamic and rhythmic attack that sprung players behind the defense almost 15 times during the match.
Still, despite the offensive superiority, the U.S. could not produce a goal until the 73rd minute. The game winner came off a corner kick after Canadian goalkeeper Taryn Swiatek had misplayed a clearance while under pressure from speedy 19-year-old forward Heather O’Reilly.
Hamm spun the kick into the middle from the right side and Boxx got a solid head on the ball, powering it towards the goal. Mitts slipped in between two Canadian defenders and sliced the bouncing ball into the net while literally standing on the goal line, avoiding offside as several Canadian forwards were there with her.
It was the first career international goal for Mitts, who was named the Chevrolet Player of the Game, and it came in her 20th career match for the USA.
“I made the Olympic team and scored a goal. It’s been a good week,” said Mitts. “After the game, I couldn’t stop smiling.”
U.S. goalkeeper Kristin Luckenbill earned first-ever start, her fourth cap, and first shutout for the USA, putting in an extremely solid effort by making four saves and several solid catches off high balls.
“We dominated, but they did a good job hanging in there,” said Heinrichs. “I’ll take a 1-0 win any night. We created a plethora of chances and another night we might finish four of five of them.”
The USA almost got on the board in the game’s opening minutes as Canada captain Charmaine Hooper brought down Hamm on the right side of the penalty box as she roared in on goal, but referee Kari Seitz let play continue.
Forward Abby Wambach was dangerous on numerous occasions, but it was a frustrating night for the 5-11 striker. In the 11th minute, Wambach powered into the penalty area on the left side and cut a quality pass back to Hamm, but her shot was deflected by the sliding Swiatek, bounced off the retreating Randee Hermus and rolled out of bounds for a corner kick.
Hamm had a great chance in the 18th minute, as a booming punt from Luckenbill skipped off the head of Hooper right to Hamm behind the defense, but in trying to lift the ball over Swiatek, also cleared the crossbar.
“I had chances to score tonight, but I still have a lot to work on,” said Hamm, whose next goal will be the 150th of her career. “I just have to stay positive and realize that I need to take my opportunities when I get them.”
In the 32nd minute, Swiatek came up with great point-blank save off Wambach’s shot after Hamm had lifted a great pass into the penalty area.
Canada had two dangerous chances in the first half, the first coming off a cross from Christine Sinclair deep on the right flank. The ball tailed toward the goal and Luckenbill had to reach up and pull it off the post at the upper right corner before controlling it.
Canada’s second chance came in the 44th minute a long free kick sailed into the U.S. penalty box and it was knocked down to Sinclair, who cracked a shot that was headed on frame before it was deflected by the leaping Boxx for a corner kick.
In the 38th minute, Aly Wagner chipped a bouncing ball over the defense to Wambach, but in a play similar to Hamm’s, her chip over the head of Swiatek sailed high over the top of the goal.
Canada defended almost the entire second half, taking just three shots after the break, none of them dangerous, and dropped deeper into its zone in an attempt to bunker. That created a bit more space for Wagner in the midfield, and she just missed on numerous slip passes to the forwards as Swiatek was quick off her line to gobble up the passes.
The U.S. back four of Mitts, Cat Reddick, Kate Markgraf and Christie Rampone was organized and tough as they dealt with a steady slew of long balls, as well as the dangerous running of Sinclair and striking partner Christine Latham.
The USA peppered the Canadian goal in the second half as Hamm fired just wide left from 30 yards after a good turn in the 50th minute, Kristine Lilly hammered a volley from sharp angle in the left side of the box that Swiatek batted down in the 52nd and Wagner fired high over the bar in the 53rd after a nifty move at the top of the penalty area.
The U.S. substitutes of Memphis native Cindy Parlow, 20-year-old Lindsay Tarpley, and O’Reilly gave the USA a spark, with all three getting several chances to score after coming on in the 69th minute.
Two minutes after entering the game, Parlow almost delighted her home state crowd by running onto a great pass from Tarpley, but had two shots from inside the six-yard box saved by Swiatek. She had two more great chances in the dying minutes, but Swiatek was up to the task.
“We are coming out of this game with some really positive feelings about how we are playing,” said U.S. captain Julie Foudy. “We played really well and played two strong halves. We really dominated the game on both ends.”