By Chris Kaftan
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Their uniforms were soaked with sweat under the hot morning sun, their shorts were covered with grass stains, and every player was jubilant. They were golden once more.
The U.S. women’s soccer team used a strong, cohesive attack to control the entire gold-medal match against the Russian Federation, winning its third straight Deaflympic gold medal, 2-1, Sunday morning at Vasil Levsky Stadium.
Connecting on nearly flawless passing, tackling and dribbling through the legs of the Russian soccer players, the U.S. used a 4-4-2 formation to continuously attack the Russian defense. As a result, the Americans had a game-high 11 shots on goal, while Russia made just three shots at U.S. goalkeeper Meghan Maiwald.
The U.S. opened its offensive attack moments after the game started with a Liza Offreda free kick off a Russian penalty that sailed to Julia Nelson, who made a shot on goal that was deflected by the Russian goalkeeper.
The U.S. continued to strategically attack the Russian defense with deft passing. Anytime the Russians were able to get a stray dribble or loose ball, they would kick it out of bounds to bring players back to help protect the goal.
Forward Felicia Schroeder had several opportunities to score goals, but Russian goalkeeper Natalia Mikhailova deflected all of Schroeder’s shots. Schroeder was sometimes double- or triple-teamed by the Russians – a strategy to shut down whom they considered the most dangerous weapon on the American team.
Right before halftime, midfielder Heather Kennedy’s shot went wide left of the goal. Both teams entered halftime with the score tied, 0-0.
“We had several opportunities to get a goal in the first half, but the ball either hit the bar or went [to the left or right] of the goal,” Offreda said.
At the 62-minute mark, Kennedy passed the ball to Kate Ward, who in turn fired a shot to the upper right corner of the goal for the first point of the match.
Sensing momentum shifting to their side, the U.S. increased its offensive attack and immediately attacked the Russian defense. A deflected rebound ended up in a scrum in front of the Russian goal. Julia Nelson found the ball and knocked it into the net for the 2-0 lead.
The U.S. allowed its first opponent goal of the entire Deaflympics on a Russian surprise attack that caught the right side of the defense off guard. Veronika Nazina kicked the ball (72’) past Maiwald’s outstretched hands.
For the remaining 18 minutes of action, the U.S. maintained the tempo of the game and control of the ball, passing it among the players in an effort to prevent Russia from launching another offensive attack.
When time expired, the jubilant Americans rushed together on the field and celebrated their gold-medal winning victory.
“In the second half, we did much better,” Offreda said. “We took control of the game and were aggressive on our offense, and that’s why we scored these two quick goals.”
The U.S. finishes this Deaflympics on a 15-game winning streak that started at the 2005 Deaflympics, and the United States scored 27 goals to Russia’s eight in the 2013 Deaflympics. The American squad was balanced, with eight players who scored goals, including five who had multiple goals in the Deaflympics.
For the second straight Deaflympics, Schroeder won the “unofficial” Golden Boot award, given to the player who scored the most goals in the tournament. She finished with eight goals. Teammate Julia Nelson had seven goals.