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USWNT’s scoring drought ends thanks to a New Zealand player’s own-goal hat trick

SheBelieves Cup: United States 5, New Zealand 0

New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler and defender Meikayla Moore watch the ball find the net during Sunday's loss to the United States in the SheBelieves Cup. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)
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CARSON, Calif. — Meikayla Moore put a resounding end to the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s scoring drought Sunday with a first-half hat trick.

Problem was, she plays for New Zealand.

In a bizarre and gut-wrenching scene, Moore was responsible for three own goals by the 36th minute during the top-ranked Americans’ 5-0 victory in their second game at the SheBelieves Cup.

An own goal is not uncommon. Two by one player in the same game is extremely rare. Three by one player in an international match is Halley’s comet.

Before intermission arrived, Coach Jitka Klimkova removed Moore from the match. When she came to the sideline, the teary-eyed player rested her head on the shoulder of her coach, who consoled her for an extended time.

“I said to her that we all know what a great player she is,” Klimkova said. “That’s what she needs to keep in her mind. ... I know she is not going to forgot those three moments, but those are good lessons learned for the future.”

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Moore, a 25-year-old center back who plays for Liverpool, was making her 50th appearance for New Zealand. She was on the 2015 World Cup squad and, if not for an Achilles’ tendon injury, would have been part of the 2019 team, too.

The first two goals came in an 82-second span. In the fifth minute, Sophia Smith targeted Catarina Macario and Margaret Purce with a left-side cross. Moore intervened with her raised right leg and deflected it past goalkeeper Erin Nayler.

The next one was bad luck. Sofia Huerta crossed from the right to Purce for a close-range header, which struck Moore’s head and caromed into the net.

Later, Purce rushed past Ali Riley on the right side and crossed toward Smith deep in the penalty area. Moore was in position to clear, and given all that had occurred, she figured to be extra careful. But when she tried to push the ball out with her left foot, it ended up in the net again in the 36th minute.

Moore’s head dropped. Riley wrapped her right arm around her.

“Those three moments was so hard to come back from mentally,” Nayler said. “We’re just going to have to support her as much as we can. This is about more than football right now that we have to think about. We have to think about her as a person and think about what we can do to get her confidence back.”

The first U.S. goal ended a 180-minute drought for a team known over the decades for scoring in bunches. It also had been shut out in five of its previous 13 games.

The Americans, who rebounded from a 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic on Thursday, said they were happy with the pressure that led to the errors.

“Even though they were own goals, if you look at the way we built up to those opportunities … it was very good,” Coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “We were able to impose ourselves early on and set a rhythm, a pace that suits us.”

Purce, a Silver Spring native making her 11th international appearance, was influential in creating opportunities.

“It says own goal, but you can’t take away from the fact that we did a lot of great work to put the ball in good spaces,” she said. “It’s really hard to defend.”

Asked whether she felt for Moore, Purce said: “No. This is sports. It happens. I have had days where I’ve scored own goals. You keep going on, and all of us will play a new game on Wednesday. We’ll keep pushing, and so will she.”

Before an announced crowd of 16,587, the Americans scored twice of their own accord in the second half.

In the 51st minute, substitute Ashley Hatch, one of seven Washington Spirit players on the 23-strong U.S. roster, headed in Huerta’s cross from eight yards. She has scored in her past three U.S. appearances.

In stoppage time, sub Mallory Pugh converted a partial breakaway, set up by Hatch’s header.

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Sunday brought the return of goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, a 2019 World Cup hero who suffered a knee injury last summer in the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics. In her absence, Andonovski has used Adrianna Franch, Jane Campbell and, for the previous three matches, Casey Murphy.

Naeher is by far the most experienced, but with Murphy on the rise and Washington’s Aubrey Kingsbury (nee Bledsoe) also in the mix, the battle for the top spot is likely to continue into the summer.

Ashley Sanchez, a 22-year-old central attacker for the Spirit, made her first career start. She aided a lineup that was without star midfielder Rose Lavelle, who is nursing an ankle injury suffered Thursday.

“I spoke a lot to her about being brave and being herself,” Andonovski said. “She has special qualities. We just have to support her and be patient with her, and she will be able to showcase them.”

Overall, he was pleased with the offensive uprising — even though most of the goals came from a visiting player.

“These players wanted to win — they needed to win,” Andonovski said. “They needed to see goals. That’s good. We’re hoping this is just a beginning.”

Note: Washington’s Trinity Rodman, a 19-year-old forward who made her U.S. debut Thursday, entered in the second half but twice required medical assistance. The second came on a knee-to-knee collision that didn’t allow her to return. Andonovski said the medical staff would evaluate her ahead of Wednesday’s match against Iceland (2-0-0) in Frisco, Tex.