Rio 2016: United States shuts out New Zealand 2-0 in opening group stage match
Lloyd celebrates her first half goal (AFP, Gustavo Andrade)

Seeking to defend their gold medal, the United States shut out New Zealand on Wednesday evening. Scoring goals early in both halves, they set the tone for the game and maintained pressure throughout to ensure their win.

Lloyd puts it away early to give the US the lead

New Zealand started with tap and immediately sent the ball forward, but USA’s defense stepped up quickly, dispossessing them and shutting it down early. The first chance for the US came in the third minute; a cross that no one could finish. Mallory Pugh, despite her age, proved to be dangerous down the flank, connecting with right back Kelley O'Hara to create chances for the Americans. New Zealand began to get chippy, giving up multiple free kicks during the first half, with a few in very dangerous positions near the box.

In the ninth minute, Tobin Heath dribbled past opposing defenders into the top of the box and found Carli Lloyd, who put it away giving the United States a 1-0 lead. Heath got fouled by Betsy Hassett in the 18th minute, who then received the first yellow card of the game. Heath took her free kick, but it was easily saved. Pugh went down in the 22nd minute and received treatment from trainers, but she walked it off and returned to play. Pugh and Heath both continued to be threats in the attacking third throughout the half, sending in cross after cross.  The second yellow of the game came in the 30th minute with the booking of New Zealand’s Ali Riley, who fouled her former Stanford teammate O'Hara. The Football Ferns tried to get a few more attempts on goal, but they’re all cleared by the United States, and they enter the half trailing the Americans 1-0.

Morgan goal seals in the win for the United States

The United States entered the second half hungry for another goal. Morgan Brian found Alex Morgan on the outside, who slotted the ball into the goal, doubling the team’s lead to 2-0 in the 46th minute. Three minutes later, Morgan, at the same angle that she scored from, passed the ball back into the box but no one was there to receive it.  New Zealand's Amber Hearn took a shot from outside of the box that was blocked, but she took another shot off of the deflection that went just wide of the goal in the 50th minute. Crystal Dunn is subbed on for Pugh a minute later. New Zealand seemed to be getting their offensive fire back, with Annalie Longo dribbling the ball down and passing it to Ria Percival, but they eventually got dispossessed. The United States weren't done yet, and they got another chance in the 60th minute when Morgan Brian brought down a ball in the box and passed to Heath, but she sent her shot way over the crossbar.

Lindsey Horan came on for Brian four minutes later, making her Olympic debut. Heath was fouled again at the edge of the box in the 65th minute, and Percival received a yellow card. Katie Duncan and Lloyd collide, and Duncan stays down. The trainers come on for her, but she tries to play through it. It proved to be too much in the 70th minute, though, and she’s subbed out for Kristy Yallop. The US got another free kick just outside of the box in the 76th, and the shot is bobbled by the keeper but no one is there to finish it. There were a few more chances for both teams towards the end of the half, but it wasn’t enough to change the score, and the game ended at 2-0 in the United State’s favor.

Alex Morgan celebrates her goal with teammate Meghan Kligenberg. (Getty Images, Pedro Vilela)

USA victory is just the start they want

The United States are used to coming into the Olympics strong, winning four of five Olympic openers going into Rio. The Americans are facing a more difficult French team on Saturday, so the win today may give them extra momentum going into that match.