TIANJIN, China (AP) A goal, another strong defensive performance and a victory are doing wonders for American confidence.
After a 1-0 win over Japan in their Olympic opener, the United States heads into Sunday's clash against group favorite Netherlands with a spring in its step, despite the heat and humidity of Tianjin.
"The win helps a lot with confidence," central defender Michael Parkhurst said. "It's always nice to start out with three points. It's tough to play from behind, and not only in a game.
"We know need three points out of our next two games. It's real nice to get a win right off the bat."
Entering the Olympics, the Americans had not scored in three games. It beat Canada 3-0 in the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying semifinals in March to earn a trip to China, but then lost the final 1-0 to Honduras. Last week it drew 0-0 with Ivory Coast and then lost 1-0 to Cameroon at the friendly ING Cup in Hong Kong.
Three games without a win or a goal was generating questions that were becoming bothersome.
"We all expect the goals to come eventually," Parkhurst said Friday as he and his teammates took the 110-kilomter (67-mile) trek to Beijing to march in with full U.S. squad in the Beijing games' opening ceremony. "It's definitely nice to get one in the first game."
Stuart Holden ended the American drought, pouncing on a loose ball at the top of the penalty area to hit a left-footed strike that Japanese goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa was able to slow with his hand, but not prevent from slithering over the line.
For Holden, the goal had even more personal significance, with his parents among the 57,102 at Tianjin Olympic Sports Center Stadium.
"I was pretty thrilled they came to China. They got to see me score a goal, especially with everything (my dad) is going through, his health so-so," said Holden, referring to the treatment his father, Brian, is undergoing for pancreatic cancer.
"Everyone's really pumped. It got our confidence growing a bit. Everyone's flying."
Its ability to prevent Japan from scoring also buoyed a makeshift defense, which employed FC Toronto midfielder Maurice Edu as a center back beside Parkhurst, and Michael Orozco of Mexico's San Luis and Edu's Toronto teammate Marvelle Wynne on the wings.
"I've played there before, but not much, nothing too intense," Edu said. "I feel confident, I'm comfortable on the ball. Being back there you see more of the field, and you can organize guys in front of you."
With humidity over 60 percent and temperatures in the low 30s Celsius (high 80s Fahrenheit), nearly everybody complained about the weather conditions.
"I'm still recovering," Parkhurst said. "It was a tough game. Those were conditions I don't think I've every played in before: the humidity, the air, the intensity, everything combined. The win made it all worth it."
The Dutch are the group favorites, but struggled in a 0-0 draw with Nigeria on Thursday. Come Sunday, they will be without forward Roy Makaay, who injured his right foot, and midfielder Evander Sno, who was ejected in second-half injury time.
It hasn't cowed Dutch coach Foppe de Haan, who expressed confidence of his team's chances against the United States, describing the American team as a side without any extremely good players and not on the same level as Nigeria.
"It all comes down to mind games," Holden said. "We're fine. If you look at the group, we're not the favorites to advance. We knew that going in. We prefer it as underdogs. There's more pressure on them, less on us."
And having allowed only two goals in its past seven games, the defense certainly doesn't feel stressed.
"If we keep a zero on our end, we don't expect to get shutout very often," Parkhurst said. "Every game from here on out, we'll get better offensively."