Down by two entering the fourth quarter on Saturday, the U.S. women's field hockey team needed a goal — and Danielle Grega delivered.
The midfielder scooped up her own rebound to end the shutout a minute into the final period, but host New Zealand wasn't done scoring. Alia Jaques pushed the ball over the goal line in the 54th minute to seal a 3-1 FIH Pro League win for the Black Sticks at the Nga Puna Wai Hockey Stadium in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The Oceania champions also picked up a 3-1 win on Friday, earning six points to propel themselves into second place in the league. Team USA remains in last place with zero points and a negative-22 goal differential.
Despite the statistics, it was the U.S. defense leading the way on Saturday, keeping the game scoreless in the first quarter.
FIH No. 7 New Zealand managed to crack the scoreboard 22 seconds into the second as Olivia Merry converted a penalty corner. The cross strike into the bottom left corner of the cage marked her league-best sixth goal of the season.
Team USA nearly answered back in the 17th minute. Linnea Gonzales took a long pass at the top of the circle and fired a reverse toward the cage. Grega reached out for the deflection, but the ball sailed wide.
The U.S. defense took over from there, sealing off the cage and turning away four corners before the end of the quarter. Amanda Magadan made a big stop as the flyer before goalie Kealsie Robles made a trio of saves, swatting down the first attempt and kicking away consecutive shots on the final corner.
"That was our goal, just commit to the hard work for the full 60 (minutes) and I think we put them under pressure and forced them into some errors that we didn't in the first game," U.S. captain Ashley Hoffman told the FIH after the game. "We fought for the full 60 minutes and we did a better job of counter control and remaining with the ball in their attacking (end), so I'm proud of that."
"(The game) was a lot tighter today," New Zealand captain Stacey Michelsen, who was named Player of the Match, admitted in her postgame interview. "USA came out a lot stronger, and we kind of slacked off there in the middle, but it was nice to get that last goal."
With New Zealand struggling, Michelsen stepped up. Taking the ball in herself, the captain weaved through three defenders before shooting over the outstretched stick of a fourth to make it a 2-0 game midway through the third quarter.
New Zealand captain Stacey Michelsen took the ball herself into the circle and hit a reverse for the team's second score in the 38th minute. pic.twitter.com/C8szyyUH7a— USA Field Hockey (@USAFieldHockey) February 16, 2020
The Black Sticks tried to add to their advantage, but couldn't get past Robles. The diving goalie denied two more corners, just reaching out her stick to stop the first before using her pads to knock away the second.
No. 14 Team USA came out more aggressively to start the fourth quarter, including a persistent Grega.
The midfielder received a pass in stride near the 25-yard-line and took off down the sideline, shedding New Zealand's Brooke Neal. Reaching the right baseline, Grega cut toward the cage, where goalie Grace O'Hanlon got her stick out for the stop. Grega kept charging toward the goal, however, scooping up the loose ball and depositing it in the corner.
The momentum looked like it had shifted as Anna Dessoye sent a shot just wide and Grega earned the Americans a corner in the 53rd minute. O'Hanlon just got a piece of the ball to stop Ashley Hoffman's strike, two minutes before Robles returned the favor on New Zealand's eighth corner of the game.
The Black Sticks would not be denied, however, scoring 33 seconds later.
Michelsen dribbled down to the right baseline, threading a perfect pass between Robles and a defender. A wide open Jaques awaited on the other side, easily tapping in the decisive tally.
The loss marks the Americans' fifth in as many games, but also the squad's last Pro League game for nearly two months. Team USA will return to Chula Vista, California for training before hosting FIH No. 10 China at the University of North Carolina April 10-11.
In the 47th minute Danielle Grega got USA on the board as she took it herself and beat defender Brooke Neal and goalkeeper O'Hanlen. pic.twitter.com/5TyD4I4Z3R— USA Field Hockey (@USAFieldHockey) February 16, 2020