Former teammates square off in London
By Ann Killion
NEWCASTLE - It was billed as an Olympic quarterfinal. But at moments, it seemed like the women's soccer game at legendary St. James' Park was a Pac-12 scrimmage.
The U.S. team was packed with Pac-12 players, of course. And playing for New Zealand - which put up a strong fight but lost 2-0 - was Stanford's Ali Riley and Cal's Betsy Hassett.
"It's awesome," said Riley. "It just shows how amazing our Conference is."
The Cal and Stanford players got together at their shared hotel the night before the game to catch up: Hassett and Alex Morgan from Cal, and Riley, Kelley O'Hara, Rachel Buehler, U.S. alternate Christen Press and Nicole Barnhart from Stanford.
"When we see each other, it's like no time has gone by," Riley said.
But on the field on Friday they battled. The U.S. led by just one goal for most of the game and New Zealand hung tough.
"We dominated parts of the game," Hassett said. "It was really fun playing against Alex - it brought back some memories from Cal. It was quite a fight out there."
After playing toe-to-toe with the top-ranked U.S. team, Riley is rooting for her former Stanford teammates to win the gold medal.
"It's hard to play against them," Riley said. "It's an incredible team. I wish all the best for them and I think they'll take gold, but I think we played really well."
The teams had played in February, which allowed the All Blacks to get familiar with the team and be less in awe. After the game, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage told the players they were the best New Zealand team she'd ever seen.
"That means a lot." Riley said. "It was encouraging. It was heartbreaking to lose but in another four years we'll be even better."
The most impactful Pac-12 player on the field Friday wasn't from Cal or Stanford, but from UCLA. Sydney Leroux, 22, who scored 16 goals for UCLA last year and was a first team All-American, came into the game to replace Morgan in the 80th minute. Leroux buried the insurance goal in the 87th minute, for her first Olympic goal.
The New Zealand team was trounced 4-0 when it played the U.S. in the Beijing Olympics. The team has improved significantly since then.
Hassett is a native of New Zealand who came to play at Cal. But Riley, who graduated from Stanford in 2010, is a native Californian whose father was born in New Zealand. She said that sometimes she gets confused when she hears the American national anthem playing and realizes she's not supposed to sing along.
"I think of myself as a Kiwi when it comes to soccer," she said.
And a Pac-12 player in every regard.