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2016 Rio Olympics: Cal alum Alex Morgan highlights USWNT's win over New Zealand

Pedro Vilela/Getty

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Nearly 48 hours before the opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympics at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team kicked off its Summer Games with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand on Wednesday night in Belo Horizonte.

Perhaps in a sign of things to come, there were Pac-12 fingerprints all over the result of the tournament opener for the USWNT.

Cal graduate Alex Morgan -- who put together a breakout performance during the 2012 games in London -- highlighted the action from Pac-12 players on the evening with a quick goal to start the second half. Thirty-four seconds into the period, Morgan took advantage of some nifty passing by her teammates, staying onside near the left post before poking it past the goalkeeper with her left foot.

"It's crazy to think it was in the first minute of coming back out," Morgan said. "I felt like we needed that after the last 20 minutes of the first half not being that great of soccer. I feel like we came out and dominated, and did well to finish off the game."


Morgan’s goal, her 68th in international competition, doubled Team USA’s lead after Carli Lloyd opened the scoring with a ninth-minute header. From there, the tough American defense made it easy on star goalkeeper and Washington alumna Hope Solo, who didn’t see much pressure throughout the night.

“I was just impressed with our ball movement,” Solo told NBC Sports Network. “Of course we had to play defense, but we had to play less defense because we had such great ball movement and possession of the ball. I think it was a great starting game for our team and the young players as well.”

Speaking of young players, 18-year-old Mallory Pugh, who delayed her freshman year at UCLA to train for the Olympics, became the youngest player to ever start for the USWNT. Pugh showed great pace and aggressively moved the ball up the field before leaving the game in the 51st minute. Pugh sat out briefly in the first half with an apparent left leg injury following a collision.

Stanford graduate Kelley O’Hara also started the contest for Team USA and got tangled up with with fellow Cardinal alum Ali Riley in the 30th minute. Riley, who was an aggressive player for New Zealand all night, earned a yellow card for trying to kick O’Hara in retaliation.

[Related content: Pac-12 Sends Impressive Contingent to Rio Games ]

New Zealand also featured another Pac-12er in former Cal Golden Bear Betsy Hassett, who spent the night as a physical presence against the Americans. Meanwhile, UCLA alumna and striker Rosie White didn’t see any action on the field for New Zealand.

Stanford alum Christen Press eventually entered the contest for Team USA in the 81st minute for Morgan, creating a late scoring chance with an impressive cross.

The U.S. Women’s National Team will be back in Belo Horizonte on Saturday (1 p.m. PT on NBC SN) for what’s expected to be a tough group match against France.

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