US women's national team - USWNT celebration - vs New Zealand, 2016 Olympics

It wasn't spectacular, but it didn't need to be.

The US women's national team rarely left second or third gear as they kicked off their 2016 Olympic tournament with a 2-0 defeat of New Zealand at Estadio Minerao in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, paced by an early goal from Carli Lloyd and a clincher from Alex Morgan just after halftime.

With New Zealand taking a bruising, defense-first approach, rhythm was often in short supply for the Americans. But their pressing and athleticism prevented the Kiwis from enjoying much possession, and the “Football Ferns” rarely looked likely to mount a comeback after Lloyd steered a looping header over goalkeeper Erin Nayler on a set piece less than 10 minutes after the opening whistle.

Returning to the USWNT starting 11 after prolonged hamstring issues in the run-up to the tournament, influential central midfielder Morgan Brian made her presence felt barely moments into the second half, teeing up Alex Morgan for a low strike that beat Nayler at the near post.

Should they successfully defend their gold-medal honors from London 2012, the US will play six games in less than three weeks as they crisscross vast Brazil. So head coach Jill Ellis will surely be content to bank these three points and turn towards a much tricker match on Saturday, when they take on France at the same venue (4 pm ET; NBCSN, NBC Universo, NBC Olympic Soccer Channel).


USA (4-3-3): 1-Hope Solo; 5-Kelley O’Hara, 8-Julie Johnston, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 7-Meghan Klingenberg; 3-Allie Long, 14-Morgan Brian (9-Lindsey Horan, 64), 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.); 2-Mallory Pugh (16-Crystal Dunn, 51), 13-Alex Morgan (12-Christen Press, 81), 17-Tobin Heath

Subs not used: 6-Whitney Engen, 11-Ali Krieger, 15-Megan Rapinoe, 18-Alyssa Naeher

NZL: 1-Erin Nayler; 2-Ria Percival, 6-Rebekah Stott, 5-Abby Erceg (capt.), 7-Ali Riley; 14-Katie Bowen (10-Sarah Gregorius, 60), 16-Annalie Longo, 4-Katie Duncan (11-Kristy Yallop, 72), 12-Betsy Hassett; 9-Amber Hearn, 17-Hannah Wilkinson (8-Jasmine Pereira, 83)

Subs not used: 3-Anna Green, 13-Rosie White, 15-Meikayla Moore, 18-Rebecca Rolls

Box Score

  • 9' - USA - Carli Lloyd

  • 46' - USA - Alex Morgan (Morgan Brian)

Three Things

1. TAKE 'ER EASY: Those looking for scintillating entertainment in this one were likely disappointed by the ho-hum manner of the USWNT's victory. But control, composure and game management in situations like these are hallmarks of great teams. Saturday's meeting with France was always going to be the toughest test of this group assignment and the US can now look to hit their stride against Les Bleues.

2. HOSTS SAY NOPE TO HOPE:Hope Solo will probably go down as the best goalkeeper in women's soccer history. But she's not everyone's cup of tea, and that includes most of Wednesday's crowd in Belo Horizonte. Apparently unimpressed by her vocal public criticism of the Zika outbreak's effect on the Olympic Games, the home fans serenaded her with boos all game and some even chanted "Zika" when she took goal kicks. It will probably take her a while to live down things like this:

3. I BELIEVE THAT JILL WILL MAL: 18-year-old winger Mallory Pugh has breezily vaulted every challenge placed in front of her in her startling rise from winter-camp curiosity to regular starter this year. She got the start over Crystal Dunn in this one and didn't look out of place, underlining coach Jill Ellis' complete confidence in her readiness for the big spotlight. That said, Dunn may well get the nod on Saturday if Ellis platoons her wingers to keep everyone fresh.