Republic of Ireland senior women’s team went down 2-0 to Olympic champions USA in the second of this week’s double headers.
A crowd of 11,570 and a national television audience were watching as the Irish bounced back from Wednesday’s 5-0 defeat with a strong defensive display to prevent another rout but it wasn’t enough to prevent the number one ranked team in the world from registering a 2-0 win.
Goals from Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe extended their current unbeaten run to an impressive 20 games.
Coach Sue Ronan could have been forgiven for fearing the worst after just 44 seconds when the American took the lead through star striker Alex Morgan who had scored a first-half hat-trick on Wednesday night.
Midfielder Lauren Cheney slipped a perfectly-weighted pass behind the Ireland defence and Morgan, who had made a penetrating run, lashed a shot from 10 yards out past Byrne and into the bottom right corner.
In the previous ten games between the countries, the USA had scored five goals in six of those games and Morgan’s 28th goal of the year seemed to suggest that a seventh five goal defeat was on the way especially when Rapinoe doubled the USA’s lead in the 28th minute.
Amy LePeilbet played a long ball down the left wing to Morgan who took the ball to the end line before pulling it back for the in-rushing Rapinoe. She hit her shot first-time from 14 yards, past the wrong-footed Byrne, off the leg of a scrambling defender and into the net.
The score would have been much higher if not for some heroics from goalkeeper Emma Byrne, who made five spectacular saves in the second half, three of them on excellent efforts from Carli Lloyd.
In the 51st minute, the Irish ‘keeper dived to push Lloyd’s shot from distance around the post. Two minutes later, Byrne kick-saved a 10-yard shot from Lloyd after she had played a clever one-two with Abby Wambach that freed her up deep in the penalty area.
In the 62nd minute, Lloyd returned the favour and played Wambach into the box with a great pass. Wambach cut back to lose a defender and fired hard at Byrne, who was winning her 93rd cap, made another good save, knocking the ball down before falling on it.
Byrne made her best save in the 67th minute after Lloyd hit a drive from 30 yards out that was surely headed into the upper-right corner. The long-time Arsenal goalkeeper fully extended herself and just got a piece of the ball, pushing it off the crossbar in a spectacular piece of goalkeeping.
US forward Sydney Leroux, who had scored twice in Portland, was introduced in the 59th minute and almost delighted her hometown crowd in the 75th, but once again Byrne was there to save her team. Rampone raced past two defenders down the right flank and hit a low cross to Leroux, whose shot to the near post was scooped away by Byrne.
Ireland created few chances during the game but nonetheless finish 2012 with a credible display against the four-time Olympic champions which will give Ronan plenty to build on heading into 2013 and the build-up to the start of the FIFA 2015 World Cup qualifiers.
USA: Hope Solo (Jill Loyden 22, Nicole Barnhart 46); Heather Mitts (Christie Rampone 46), Rachel Buehler, Becky Sauerbrunn, Amy LePeilbet; Megan Rapinoe (Amy Rodriguez 59), Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd, Lauren Cheney; Alex Morgan (Sydney Leroux 59), Abby Wambach (c).
Sub Not Used: Kelley O’Hara.
Republic of Ireland: Emma Byrne (c); Mary Therese McDonnell Megan Campbell Louise Quinn, Shannon McDonnell; Aine O’Gorman, Niamh Fahey, Ciara Grant (Sophie Perry 46), Julie Ann Russell (Ruesha Littlejohn 58), Diane Caldwell; Denise O’Sullivan (Shannon Smyth 46).
Subs Not Used: Yvonne Tracey, Meabh De Burca, Eve Badana.
Referee: Kristen Schiereck (USA).