With the U.S. women's field hockey team held without a goal 21 minutes into Thursday's FIH Pro League game, Mackenzie Allessie tried to create some space.
Receiving a pass just inside the circle, the Donegal senior spun around her defender and lifted the ball while falling to the turf. The shot sailed over the head of charging New Zealand goalie Grace O'Hanlon and had a clear path to the back of the net — until Brooke Neal lifted her stick.
Neal just got the edge of her stick in the way, sending the ball off the cross bar and out to the Black Sticks for the counter attack. That near miss foreshadowed the rest of the game for Team USA, which created chances and earned more penalty corners in the first half (four) than in its first three games combined (three), but struggled to put the ball in the cage.
The host Black Sticks would score twice in the second quarter and add an insurance goal in the third to seal a 3-1 victory at the North Harbour Hockey Stadium.
New Zealand maintained possession inside the 25-yard-line for the first four minutes, but managed just two shots, which were both turned away by U.S. goalie Kealsie Robles.
Team USA finally transitioned to the other end, but captain Kat Sharkey's shot was swatted away. Two minutes later, Allessie earned the game's first corner.
The Donegal senior, dubbed "a little magician" by the announcers, earned four of Team USA's seven penalty corners, but New Zealand would turn them all away.
After a scoreless first quarter, New Zealand needed just three minutes to get on the board in the second. Katie Doar entered the circle from the right side and centered the ball to Olivia Merry, who stepped in front of a defender to deflect the ball into the cage.
The goal was Merry's sixth in six games, locking up her spot as the league's top scorer.
Allessie's near miss would come two minutes later, followed by New Zealand's second goal. This time it was Merry with the assist, dribbling the ball through a defender's legs and finding Kirsten Pearce for the redirection and the 2-0 lead with 5:13 left in the quarter.
The score would hold until a New Zealand corner in the 34th minute, with Ella Gunson stretching her stick out to send the ball into the netting. It almost became a 4-0 game in the final three minutes of the third quarter as Marry took aim at the cage.
Firing from the top of the circle, however, her shot went clanging off the crossbar.
Warwick graduate Alyssa Manley and the defense clamped down from there, holding off the New Zealand attack to allow Team USA to finally crack the scoreboard five minutes into the fourth quarter.
The Americans went with some variation on their sixth corner of the game. After a fake shot from Laura Hurff, the pass went left to Ali Froede, whose sweep pinballed around the circle, first striking the stick of Lauren Moyer on the left side and then being redirected into the cage by Grega on the right post.
The deflection marked the second goal in as many games for Grega.
Team USA would earn another corner in the final four minutes, but Sharkey's shot would be blocked and deflected wide of the goal. Manley gave the U.S. one last chance, stealing the ball with just 30 seconds to play, but ran into a wall of defenders on the right side before she could get a shot off.
Neal's defensive efforts earned her Player of the Match honors.
“I think we had some key opportunities that were really looking good for us at the beginning of the game and we had to capitalize on them," Sharkey told the FIH. "I think we learned some valuable lessons that, when we are down at their end attacking, we need to switch on in defense because they are really good on the counter-attack. I think we were able to create a lot of opportunities, but need to keep working on being able to put the ball over the line.”
As the only Pro League team still without a win, the U.S. remains in last place in the standings with just one point in four games. New Zealand moves into fifth with nine points in six games, while the Netherlands currently holds first place with 12 points in five games.
The four top teams will play for the championship at the Grand Final in June.
USA Field Hockey will host its next two FIH Pro League games, facing No. 13 Belgium at Spooky Nook on Friday, March 29 at 7 p.m. and No. 2 Great Britain on Sunday, March 31 at 6 p.m.
Tickets for both games are still available on USAFieldHockey.com.