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BEIJING 2008 : WOMEN'S SOCCER

A notable goal gets the job done for U.S.

August 10, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

A sprinkling of goal dust and Carli Lloyd is suddenly a star in the making.

The 26-year-old midfielder from Delran, N.J., scored the only goal Saturday as the defending Olympic champion U.S. women's soccer team defeated Japan, 1-0, in Qinhuangdao, China, to put itself back on track for the medal round.

A victory over New Zealand on Tuesday in Shenyang would advance the Americans to the quarterfinals against either two-time defending world champion Germany or Brazil, the team the U.S. defeated to win the gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Back then, of course, the U.S. squad was aglow with stars, with Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett in the twilight of their careers and Abby Wambach a rising star of the future.

But a broken leg derailed Wambach just before these Games began, and the team that Coach Pia Sundhage is fielding in China is still seeking its identity. On Saturday evening, in the wake of Lloyd's superb goal, Sundhage hinted that the former Rutgers University standout might be rising to the occasion.

"I think in the future we could pick one or two players to be stars," Sundhage said, "but right now it's about the team. However, Carli is exceptional on the ball . . . she has all the tools. She could be a star of the future."

It was Lloyd's 27th-minute goal that led to all this praise, and it was an exceptional finish. Lloyd had spoken of the "need to come out mentally strong and focused" after the 2-0 opening loss to Norway, and she certainly did.

Lloyd's goal came after Lindsay Tarpley had sent a perfect lead pass out to Stephanie Cox, who was sprinting down the left wing. Cox had cut the ball back into the center, causing the Japanese defense to overrun the play.

The ball came to Lloyd and she unleashed a ferocious volley that was still rising when it slammed into the back of the Japanese net. Goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto had no chance of making a save.

"That was music to my ears," said Sundhage.

Afterward, Lloyd was still fired up by her 18th international goal and her first in Olympic competition. "Scoring in a game like this was unbelievable," she said.

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Jones reported from Los Angeles.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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