USWNT rallies late to beat New Zealand

Alex Morgan tied it in the 88th minute and added the winner just before the final whistle in stoppage time to give the U.S. women’s soccer team a dramatic 2-1 victory over New Zealand on Saturday in a chilly exhibition game at FC Dallas Stadium.

In stoppage time with the temperature around freezing, Rachel Buehler delivered a cross from the left wing into the middle, where Abby Wambach headed it high in the air. Morgan got under it about 6 yards in front of the net and headed it off the right post and in for the winner.

”It was a great ending. I think that we really pushed to the end, to the final whistle,” said Morgan, who has four goals in her last two games. ”We didn’t want to come away with a loss, especially on home turf, so we definitely played it out to the end. Thank goodness we won.”

Two weeks after winning the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics with five straight victories by a combined score of 38-0, the U.S. dominated possession, but appeared headed for a stunning defeat before Morgan’s late heroics.

”Alex’s ability to score goals with Abby is phenomenal and I hope it stays like that,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. ”She’s very powerful in her first step. She’s always been a finisher, she’s always been powerful, now we add movement off the ball and runs off Abby and the midfielders, and that makes a difference.”

Hannah Wilkinson scored for New Zealand in the 49th minute.

Morgan tied it off a cross from Megan Rapinoe from the right flank. The pass found Morgan just off the left post, and her header initially appeared to go off the post before goalkeeper Jenny Bindon knocked it back into play, but Bindon was actually over the goal line.

”I saw `Pinoe taking it down. She’s great with crossing, so I tried to get to the back post,” Morgan said. ”My heading isn’t fully where I want it to be right now, but I think it crossed the line and I think the referee saw that, so we were thankful for that and I think that motivated us to get another goal.”

Bindon was outstanding in the contest, making seven saves.

The U.S. outshot New Zealand 19-7 and held an overwhelming 9-1 edge in shots on goal, but New Zealand nearly pulled off the upset. It opened the scoring when Wilkinson pounced on a bad pass from American defender Kelly O’Hara.

Clearly, the U.S. women were impacted by the bitter cold conditions, with the game-time temperature 34 degrees, not counting the considerable wind chill index.

”It was freezing out there and I think that we weren’t possessing as much as we usually do,” Morgan said. ”We were giving the ball away way too much and it could have been some factor, but we were switching up the formation, so that could have been a factor, switching to 4-4-2.”

The triumph extended the U.S. winning streak against New Zealand to eight, having outscored them by a combined margin of 36-2.

The U.S. women are perfect in Texas, going 8-0-0 in the state.

Wambach, who recently passed former teammate Kristine Lilly for second place on the world goal list with 131, missed a penalty kick in the ninth minute, driving it off the post.

That early miss seemed to foreshadow an afternoon of frustrating near-misses and oh-so-close chances that almost came back to haunt them.

”I’m really thrilled,” Wambach said. ”Today was a classic United States win, it kind of shows the fighting spirit that this team has and that’s something that we are really proud of and something that we’re going to continue to embrace.”

Wilkinson snapped the scoreless tie when O’Hara’s looping pass from about 35 yards out back toward her own goal didn’t quite make it and Wilkinson raced in and intercepted it, chipping the ball up and over goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart from about 12 yards out.

Barnhart, making her first appearance of 2012, had just entered the match at halftime, giving starter Hope Solo a rest.

The Americans will next travel to Portugal to compete in the annual Algarve Cup tournament, beginning Feb. 29 with a match against Denmark.