The United States women's national team didn't exactly get off to the start they wanted. After their stunning 3-0 loss to Sweden they'll have to regroup quickly and steady the ship. For their second match of the Olympic games, team USA will square off against New Zealand on Saturday, July 24 at Tokyo Stadium in Japan. Let's take a closer look at the team who many consider will give the USWNT the most trouble during the Tokyo games.
Who are New Zealand?
The Football Ferns are making their fourth consecutive appearance at the Olympics and have already secured a place in the 2023 World Cup as co-host of the global event with Australia.
The team is led by head coach Tom Sermanni, who is now in his fourth year with the Football Ferns after being hired in October of 2018. Sermanni has familiarity with U.S. soccer systems after coaching the USWNT from January 2014 to April 2014 before being dismissed. Under his brief tenure as head coach, six players on the USA's 2020 Olympic roster made their senior national team debuts – Julie Ertz, Kristie Mewis, Christen Press, Crystal Dunn, Lindsey Horan and Samantha Mewis. Sermanni also coached in the National Women's Soccer League as head coach of the Orlando Pride from 2016-18.
The squad hasn't had much time together over the last 18 months in light of the on-going coronavirus pandemic, and the team is coming off a 2-1 loss in their opening group G match against their Oceanic rivals Australia.
Record against USWNT
The USA have played New Zealand 17 times overall, with three of those meetings coming at the Olympics and they lead the all-time series, 15-1-1 and has won all three previous meetings at the Olympic Games, outscoring the Football Ferns by an overall margin of 8-0.
This next match will make New Zealand the fourth different team the USWNT has faced four times at the Olympics, joining Brazil, Japan and Norway. USWNT and New Zealand last faced each other in 2019 during a the USWNT World Cup Send-Off Series, USA defeated the Ferns 5-0.
"I think that the challenges from New Zealand are [that] they're gonna be very structured, very organized," USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski said of New Zealand at a press conference.
"They change what they're doing within the game...when we saw that in the last game they step up and pressure high. Sometimes they defend the middle block in 5-4-1 and sometimes they'll drop even lower and play in low blocks. So for us to recognize all those moments and positions well, to be able to solve those challenges will be crucial."
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Players to keep an eye on
American audiences will be familiar with New Zealand players who play in the NWSL. Defenders Abby Erceg (North Carolina Courage), Ali Riley (Orlando Pride), and midfielder Katie Bowen (Kansas City NWSL) all play for club in the United States.
Erceg is a three-time NWSL Champion, winning the 2016 title with the Western New York Flash and back-to-back championships in 2018 and 2019 with North Carolina. USWNT players Samantha Mewis and Lynn Williams are currently her teammates in North Carolina and they all also played with Crystal Dunn during both championship title runs in North Carolina.
Riley, currently plays alongside Alex Morgan for the Orlando Pride and was a collegiate teammate of Kelley O'Hara and Christen Press at Stanford University. Bowen is currently in her fifth season in NWSL and previously played with Kelley O'Hara, Christen Press and Becky Sauerbrunn while members of Utah Royals FC. She also won an NCAA championship in 2012 with Dunn while playing for the University of North Carolina.
Several other players on New Zealand's roster have spent time in the American collegiate system, including Hannah Wilkinson who had a standout career at the University of Tennessee before pursuing a professional career in Europe. Betsy Hassett was a teammate of Alex Morgan's at the University of California, Berkeley. Gabi Rennie is currently in her second season at Indiana University, and Daisy Cleverley was named the 2021 BIG EAST Midfielder of the Year with Georgetown University.
New Zealand Olympic Women's Full Soccer Roster
Goalkeepers: 22-Victoria Esson (Avaldsnes IL, NOR), 18-Anna Leat (East Coast Bays AFC), 1-Erin Nayler (Unattached)
Defender: 19-Elizabeth Anton (Unattached), 8-CJ Bott (Vålerenga IF, NOR), 8-Claudia Bunge (Melbourne Victory, AUS), 8-Abby Erceg (North Carolina Courage, USA), 3-Anna Green (Lower Hutt City AFC), 5-Meikayla Moore (Liverpool, ENG), 7-Ali Riley (Orlando Pride, USA), 20-Marisa van der Meer (Unattached)
Midfielders: 14-Katie Bowen (Kansas City, USA), 15-Daisy Cleverley (Georgetown University, USA), 12-Betsy Hassett (UMF Stjarnan, ISL), 10-Annalie Longo (Melbourne Victory, AUS), 2-Ria Percival (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG), 16-Emma Rolston (Arna-Bjornar, NOR)
Forwards: 11-Olivia Chance (Brisbane Roar FC, AUS), 9-Gabi Rennie (Indiana University, USA), 21-Michaela Robertston (Lower Hutt City AFC), 13-Paige Satchell (Unattached), 17-Hannah Wilkinson (Unattached)