United States 3, China 1
When the third goal ripped into the back of the net, cleanly off the head of Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm pumped her fist. Wambach and some teammates hugged. The U.S. women's Olympic soccer team headed toward Greece smiling broadly, more confident than it has been in some time.
"We're ready," Wambach said. "I think everybody here knows that we're ready. We have a lot to prove."
The last pre-Olympic opportunity to provide proof -- proof that this team can improve on a silver medal in Sydney and return to championship form -- came Sunday, when the Americans convincingly beat China, 3-1, in front of 15,093 satisfied fans at stifling Rentschler Field. Thus ended a four-month training odyssey for the U.S. women, who have worked out together relentlessly in Southern California to get to the point they appear to be at now.
"I think [we're] as prepared as we can be," U.S. Coach April Heinrichs said. "We've done the work. We've paid a price. We've done all the work we can do, and we're ready to go, and I think they leave with a confidence about things."
Hamm -- whose legions of fans squealed for her before, during and long after the game -- looked dominant at times, setting up Aly Wagner with a beautiful blind touch behind her for the first U.S. goal in the 14th minute, scoring herself 19 minutes later, and then assisting on Wambach's final goal off a corner kick in the second half.
"There's still a lot of things we can work on," Hamm said.
For American soccer, this Olympics, more than anything, is about the women who built the sport in this country, first by winning the gold medal in 1996 in Atlanta, then by mesmerizing the nation with their run to the World Cup in 1999. The five mainstays -- Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly -- have been sentimental about this, their last run together, this one as thirty-somethings.
But if the Americans are to win another gold -- particularly after failing to do so in Sydney in 2000, and then finishing third in last year's World Cup -- they will have to mix that experience and savvy with the new talent.
Wambach, the 24-year-old strong-as-an-ox forward, is the centerpiece of that group, and she sounds comfortable with the way the generations are meshing.
"Everybody's touches on the ball are crisp, they're clean," Wambach said. "We know where we're going to be. We know where everybody's at. . . . The chemistry is there."
Wambach was in the center of much of the action. The Chinese defense tried to push her around when she charged the net, even making her woozy enough that she fumbled an excellent scoring opportunity. Yet she showed she might have a breakout performance overseas.
"There's no telling how good she can be," Hamm said.
The Chinese -- who managed just six shots, to the United States' 20 -- closed to within 2-1 in the 49th minute when Fan Yunjie converted a cross from Han Duan. Despite that, Heinrichs was pleased with the defense, the midfield, goalkeeper Briana Scurry -- with, well, everything.
"It couldn't have gone better," Heinrichs said. "Everybody played well. . . . When you can play as aggressively and confidently against a team that's as strong as China, that's a really good sign moving forward."
The U.S. team flew to Washington on Sunday night, and is scheduled to leave for Brussels on Monday before moving on to Greece, where it will play its first match before the Games officially open. The Americans -- who are 7-1-2 against teams in the Olympic field this year, their loss coming to Sweden -- will face Greece on Aug. 11 in Heraklio, on the island of Crete.
"We've got to be ready," Lilly said. "This is it."