Kai Nets Hat Trick For U.S. Women

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 11, 2008

Time was running out on Natasha Kai's bid for her first hat trick in a U.S. women's national soccer team uniform. Amy Rodriguez was waiting at the official's table to replace the Hawaiian-born, tattooed forward, and with perhaps one more stoppage in play, Kai's productive evening would be over.

She had been thwarted a few minutes earlier in the Olympic tuneup match by Canada's Erin McLeod, but this time, after receiving Abby Wambach's pass in the clear, Kai slid the ball under the goalkeeper for her third goal en route to a 6-0 rout before 9,332 at RFK Stadium last night.

"I didn't know at all," Kai said of her imminent removal. "I looked over and [Rodriguez] was standing there, and I was like, 'Oh, maybe Abby is going out or maybe I might.' I didn't know. I was like, 'It's all right, the goal went in.' "

All of Kai's goals came in the second half -- in the 54th, 60th and 75th minutes -- as the Americans turned a 1-0 halftime lead against an Olympic-bound opponent into their second six-goal game in six weeks.

In their first appearance in Washington in almost five years, the Americans stretched their unbeaten streak at home to 29 and their current run to 18 since being humbled by Brazil, 4-0, in the World Cup semifinals last fall.

Lindsay Tarpley, Carli Lloyd and Leslie Osborne also scored and Abby Wambach had three assists, but the star was Kai, a free-spirited forward whose 10 goals in just 563 minutes this year have provided the rejuvenated U.S. team with another scoring option to accompany Wambach.

"Her goals and her way of playing [are] contagious," U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage said. "You get inspired just watching her."

Since opening her first training camp in December, Sundhage has drastically modified her opinion of Kai. "She wasn't a professional," she said. "Her attitude was bad and she was not fit. Now she is just a goal-scorer and she will help this team a lot."

Said Kai: "I have more confidence, my teammates believe in me, I came into camp more fit and my head screwed on straight. This is an Olympic year and we want to win the gold, so I am going to be professional about it and do what I've got to do to become a good teammate."

Before Kai's scoring surge, the Americans took the lead in the 23rd minute. Working the left side, Tarpley linked with Wambach, who drew the Canadian defense and returned the ball to the on-rushing Tarpley for an 18-yard one-timer that streaked beyond McLeod's reach and into the right side of the net.

For Tarpley, a 24-year-old Michigan native who played at North Carolina and scored in the 2004 Olympic gold medal game, it was her 26th goal in 93 international appearances, her third strike in a week and ninth of the year.

U.S. goalie Hope Solo was not seriously threatened by Canada, but there were enough unclaimed balls skipping around the penalty area to cause a few anxious moments until the U.S. uprising in the second half.

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