These were supposed to be the Hope Solo Olympics for the U.S. women's football team. Or the Alex Morgan Games. Instead, they belong so far to the old reliable, Abby Wambach, who has scored in every match to lead the Americans into the semifinals.
The 32-year-old striker slid onto a pass in the 27th minute Friday to knock home her fourth goal of the tournament and then celebrated with a cartwheel in the United States' 2-0 win over New Zealand in the quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament.
Sydney Leroux added an insurance goal in the 87th minute for the two-time defending Olympic champion Americans, who will play the winner of the Britain-Canada match in Manchester on Monday.
Wambach extended her U.S. record with her eighth career Olympic goal -- a mark she holds despite missing the Beijing Games with a broken leg -- and pushed her international tally to 142, only 16 behind Mia Hamm's world record. For most of the year, she has yielded much of the scoring load to youngster Morgan, but Morgan has played the role of catalyst in this tournament, getting three assists and doing much of the hard work to set up Wambach's goal Friday.
Taking a long ball from Rachel Buehler, Morgan juked one defender and threaded her pass through two others to put the ball on Wambach's sliding right foot at the far post. The U.S. players, always looking for novel ways to display their happiness, then ran to the corner of the field and started doing cartwheels before the crowd of 10,441 at venerable St. James' Park, home of Newcastle.
Wambach's scoring spurt is remarkable given all the attention she draws from the opposition. She's still one of the strongest players in the game and is unmatched in the air, yet three of her four goals have come with her feet. She's also constantly battling her nagging Achilles tendinitis and used a series of holistic and traditional treatments to get ready for the Olympics.
The only downside to Wambach's performance was a yellow card, picked up in the 42nd minute for a hard tackle on midfielder Katie Hoyle. U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd also was given a yellow card for a foul in the 79th.
Solo recorded her third consecutive clean sheet, although once again she was rarely challenged. The Americans haven't allowed a goal since France scored twice early in the first half of the Olympic opener.
New Zealand, ranked 23rd in the world, was making its first appearance in the knockout phase of a major tournament. The Football Ferns have lost nine straight to the U.S., with their only win in the series coming in 1987.
While still on a winning streak, the Americans had trouble turning control-of-play dominance into goals for the third straight game. They led Colombia 1-0 before getting two goals late in the second half and beat North Korea 1-0, albeit after slowing the game down in the second half to save their legs for the quarterfinals.
Morgan was just wide with a pair of solid scoring chances, and Morgan and Wambach both had scary collisions with New Zealand goalkeeper Jenny Bindon. Wambach kicked Bindon in the head in the first half, and Morgan did the same in the second half.
Leroux, the youngest player on the team and the only one who wasn't on last year's World Cup squad, entered as a substitute in the 81st minute and soon had her first Olympic goal, outpacing the New Zealand defenders with a run down the left side and beating Bindon with a strong left-footed finish.