The USA Women’s National Team (WNT) shocked the Italian Women’s National Team in a dramatic come from behind effort to tie the home team in front of an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd in Salerno, Italy, Thursday night.
The Americans entered the game a likely 10 goal underdog, but early in the game it was obvious the Italians were going to be severely challenged. Ashley Butler opened the scoring from the right wing. After an Italian goal to tie the game, Julia Taylor and Julia Sayer scored and the Americans took a lead they refused to surrender for the first thirty-nine minutes of the game.
Over the next several minutes the WNT exchanged goal after goal with the Italians. Sayer scored her second of the game followed by Taylor’s second and Anja Borg’s back to back goals. Kathy Darling and Jennifer Fithian entered the scoring column for the Americans who lead 9-7 after the first 24 minutes.
Jence Rhoads scored her first goal of the contest followed quickly by goals from Sayer and Darling for an 11-8 lead. The final 1:20 of the half featured an exchange of two goal per team, both of the WNT goals were from the talented Rhoads. The halftime score was 13-10 USA and the refrain from the Italian officials traveling with the USA team was, “what a good defense.” Indeed, the American interior defense was once again stellar. Fithian, Rhoads, Sarah Gascon, Sayer, and Borg, were a cohesive force that cause significant problems for the Italians. Goal keeper Freja Dobreff was brilliant in goal, stopping six high quality shots from the Italians.
The second half opened with more Jence Rhoads offense, but the Italians changed strategy and found a way to launch fast break after fast break. The Italians pushed the tempo, catching the Americans at 39:07 into the game and then sprinted into the lead. In a 7-minute period, the Italians scored six times to a lone Kathy Darling goal for the WNT.
Rhoads then scored to bring the Americans to within a goal at 19-18, but the Italians opened a three-goal lead and it looked like a great effort by the USA might come up short. However, Borg, Rhoads, and Sayer scored and the USA closed again to trail by one. After an Italian goal, Rhoads scored her 9th goal of the game to bring the WNT to within one. The Italians, however, were not about to give up their lead and once again opened a two-goal lead with about a minute to play.
Anja Borg scored with 46 seconds to play and the Americans were within one-goal. The Italians put the ball into play and called a timeout to discuss strategy with 24 seconds to play. The Americans put a full-court press on the Italians, who somehow managed to break through the right side of the defense and instead of trying to freeze the ball, attacked from the deep right side of the court.
The shot sailed off the crossbar and bounced toward the left wing where Gascon grabbed it at the 6-meter line. In one motion, Gascon turned and fired rocket pass, approximately 110’ diagonally across the court to Rhoads, who then instantly dished it about 10’ to Julia Taylor, streaking in all alone in full-flight toward the goal. Taylor buried the shot with about 10-seconds remaining and the crowd was stunned. However, there were still several seconds to play as the Italians immediately put the ball in play. Yet, the American defense was having none of it and the Italians were stopped as time expired allowing for one last second shot over the American defensive fence. The shot sailed high and the game ended in a 24-24 tie. Both teams received a much-deserved standing ovation from the hometown Italian fans.
While the WNT allowed 14 goals in the second half, the damage was done with the goals which were scored in that 7-minute period of time when the Italians ran at every opportunity. USA Head Coach Christian Latulippe reorganized the defensive response and the Italians were no longer able to exploit the running game. Goal Keeper Sophie Fasold made three blocks in the second half, and Dobreff, who reentered the game late in the half, chalked up another blocked shot to register seven for the contest.
Head Coach Latulippe was elated with the American performance. “The ladies played very well. The showed they can play at the level of a European National Team. I like our defense very much and I think our goal keepers have been very strong. Overall, we are continuing our progress. We are getting better every time we compete against better teams.”
The WNT will return to action Saturday night, once again in Salerno against the Italian National Team. Unfortunately, several key players will not be available as schedules mandate an early departure from Italy.