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Soccer newsletter: New Zealand still loves Meikayla Moore after her three own goals

New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler, left, and defender Meikayla Moore react after an own goal.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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Hello, and welcome to the weekly L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter, The Times’ soccer writer, and today we look at some unfortunate history that was made in Sunday’s women’s national team game in Carson; at what Douglas Costa hopes to accomplish with his new club, the Galaxy; and at what a difference a title is making in how the Orange County Soccer Club approaches the upcoming USL Championship season.

We start with New Zealand defender Meikayla Moore, who had the worst half of her pro career Sunday. In fact, it might have been the worst half of any defender’s pro career.

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Three times in the first 36 minutes of a SheBelieves Cup match against the United States at Dignity Health Sports Park, Moore, a center back for New Zealand, knocked the ball into her team’s own net.

No one who saw it could remember having seen it before — in fact, it’s never happened before in an international game.

And Moore did it before the intermission. No one with a heart and feelings and empathy will ever forget it.

The Americans eventually scored two goals of their own in a 5-0 victory, but Moore still leads the U.S. team in scoring this year. (Ironically, New Zealand contributed two own goals in a 6-1 loss to the U.S. in last summer’s Olympics, so in the last two games between the countries, five of the 11 U.S. goals have actually been scored by New Zealand.)

“She is going to learn from this game. I know for sure she is not going to forget those three moments,” said New Zealand coach Jitka Klimkova, who was a defender during her playing days in the Czech Republic.

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On the first goal in the fifth minute, Moore stuck her right foot out to clear a Sophia Smith cross into the penalty area and instead knocked it past Kiwi keeper Erin Nayler.

On the second goal 82 seconds later, Moore went high to challenge Margaret Purce for a Sofia Huerta cross, only to have the ball deflect off her head and into the net.

On the third, Moore tried to clear a Purce pass across the goal mouth but mis-hit it past Nayler again.

You can watch video of the goals here.

New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler, left, and defender Meikayla Moore react after an own goal.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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“She is an incredible, incredible defender, and I actually thought her positioning was very well,” said U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski, a center back during his playing days in his native North Macedonia. “It’s just unlucky. Sometimes the ball, it’s not going to bounce your way.”

Indeed, Moore is an accomplished player. Just 25, she made the New Zealand roster for the 2015 Women’s World Cup and the 2016 and 2020 Olympics and played for Liverpool in the FA Women’s Championship.

The first two goals were painful, but the third goal broke Moore. Her head dropped and her shoulders sagged before she slowly turned and walked, stiff-legged, away from her goal.

In an act of compassion, Klimkova subbed her out minutes later and wrapped Moore in a big hug as she left the field. The player then collapsed in tears at the end of the New Zealand bench.

“I said to her that we all know how great a player she is,” Klimkova said. “She is a solid center back. That’s who she is, that’s what she needs to keep in her mind. This is something that I’m going to repeat probably many, many times to her because that’s what we believe.

“We were with her. We are going to be behind her. She’s going to be part of this team,” the coach continued. “We just need to move on. This is just a situation that can happen to everybody, not just to her. Unfortunately, it happened to her.”

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Speaking of unfortunate, there might be no better term to describe the Football Ferns, as New Zealand’s team is known. They’ve been good enough to qualify for the last four World Cups, and they will play in a fifth consecutive one because New Zealand and Australia are co-hosting the 2023 tournament. But they’ve never won a game in the tournament and have been outscored 34-8 in five appearances, including the first in 1991.

They’ve played in the last four Olympics too, losing 10 of 13 matches while getting outscored 27-8. And much of that was before COVID-19 limited New Zealand to one competitive match in 498 days in 2020-21. The team has gone 1-9-0 since.

One reason for that, captain Ali Riley said, is New Zealand’s isolation. Its closest neighbor, Australia, is 2,600 miles away, so scheduling matches with other countries is difficult and expensive.

“The location is definitely a disadvantage. And not having a domestic league means that everyone has to leave to play professionally,” said Riley who played at Harvard-Westlake High and Stanford but is eligible to represent New Zealand because her father was born there. “If we play at home, it costs us just as much to get our players in as it would another team flying to New Zealand.

“We didn’t tour for 16 months going to the Olympics. A lot of the conditions are not exactly setting us up for success,” added Riley, who has been playing for New Zealand since 2007. “If we can’t do it at this World Cup — we’re at home with the number of teams increasing — I don’t know where the national team will go. For us to reach these tournaments and not win games, to not achieve our goals, it will affect the grass roots, little girls playing, you know?”

The troubles of Andonovski and the U.S. team appear mild by comparison. Sunday’s win ran the Americans’ unbeaten streak to 64 games at home and nine games overall heading into Wednesday’s final SheBelieves Cup match against Iceland in suburban Dallas. But the U.S., which fielded the oldest roster in last summer’s Tokyo Games, is pushing to get younger.

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The team it gathered for SheBelieves, for example, was missing eight of the 11 starters from the bronze-medal game in Japan, and a lack of chemistry has slowed the transition. The Americans have been shut out five times in their last 14 games, an ominous trend with the CONCACAF W Championship, which will serve as the qualifying event for both the 2023 World Cup and 2024 Olympics, looming in July.

“This is just part of the process,” Andonovski said. “We’re excited about the win. The players wanted to win. They needed to win. They needed to see goals. And that’s good. We’re hoping that this is just the beginning.

“As a coaching staff, we’re not going to change anything because we tied the game or we won the game. We have a process. We have a plan. And we’re going to stay focused on the process. We believe in that, the players believe in the process. And if we were able to execute it, then the outcome will be positive.”

Statwatch

Most successful domestic venues for the U.S. women’s national team

(minimum eight games)

Stadium, City, Record

Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas, 12-0-0

WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, N.C., 10-0-0

BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, 10-0-0

Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, 17-0-1

Soldier Field, Chicago, 7-0-1

Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., 7-0-1

RFK Stadium-#, Washington, 9-1-0

MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio, 7-1-1

Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Ct., 6-0-3

National Sports Center, Blaine, Minn., 10-3-0

# - stadium scheduled to be demolished

Which Costa will the Galaxy get?

Douglas Costa practices with the Galaxy.
(Courtesy of the Galaxy)

Douglas Costa has been the focus of hope and doubt since joining the Galaxy on loan less than two weeks ago, a loan that will, in June, give way to an 18-month MLS contract.

The reason for hope is obvious. In a 13-year career in which he has won 22 trophies for Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayern Munich and Juventus and played in a World Cup for Brazil, Costa has proved to be among the most dynamic and sublimely talented players in the world.

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“A phenomenal player,” Galaxy coach Greg Vanney gushed. “Talk to coaches who have played against them and they say he’s almost unmarkable.”

The cause for doubt is just as obvious.

Costa, 31, has been so hampered by soft-tissue injuries that he said he considered retiring in frustration before he turned 30. He has played more than 2,000 minutes in a league campaign just once, and that almost was a decade ago in Ukraine.

That makes setting goals for his first season in MLS easy.

“To be healthy, for me that’s the most important thing,” Costa said in Spanish, his second language. “The rest I do not put numbers on, like goals, assists. Because it is going to come with time, and it will come with my teammates too.

“Maybe I can play all the games. Those are my goals.”

That’s unlikely, especially since Vanney has no intention of even trying that. Instead, he plans to manage Costa’s playing time.

”Sometimes he just needs to be load-limited a little bit,” Vanney said. “He’s got that muscle type where he’s a sprinter. We want to work with him to try to maximize his minutes and maximize his opportunities on the field.”

Owning to a combination of his late arrival and visa issues, Costa did not play in the preseason, which the Galaxy finished Saturday with a 2-2 draw against D.C. United behind a brace from Javier Hernández. The goals gave Chicharito a team-high four for the preseason while the Galaxy finished 4-1-2.

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Vanney, however, said he anticipates Costa will be available for selection Sunday, when his team opens the regular season at home against reigning MLS champion New York City FC.

“His fitness level is good. He’s still in a good position to be able to move forward,” he said.

“Adding another high-quality sophisticated player like Costa, I do believe he’s going to score goals in this league. He certainly can set up goals. His vision is outstanding. His technical ability and his ability to hit different passes and to hit shots that he can get off instantaneously, I don’t know if I’ve seen many people release a shot as quickly as he does.”

But if Costa lacks durability, he more than makes up that with his history of winning, having captured 11 domestic league championships in Europe. The Galaxy, meanwhile, haven’t played in an MLS Cup since 2014 and have made the playoffs just once in the last five seasons while losing 13 more games than they have won over that span.

That’s the worst five-year stretch in franchise history.

“Whenever I go, I put in my head a winning mentality,” Costa said. “I know that together as a team we can try to win something important and be part of history with the Galaxy. We have to work to put that in our heads.”

Vanney intends to exploit Costa’s versatility by using him on the wings and as a central attacking midfielder, a position at which the Galaxy is thin. Costa said it doesn’t matter to him as long as he’s on the field.

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“It’s too early to say what the Galaxy needs because I’ve been here for four, five days and I have yet to start a game, play with my teammates,” he said last week. “What happened last year, I really didn’t follow very much. But now that I’m here, I’m starting to ask how it was last year.

“But the past remains in the past and we are going to try to do everything right to come out as best as possible.”

One title isn’t enough for Orozco and OCSC

Michael Orozco of the Orange County Soccer Club.
(Orange County Soccer Club)

The Orange County Soccer Club opens defense of its USL Championship title next month, and captain Michael Orozco said the players have no intention of resting on last year’s laurels.

“Within the team, I think it’s just kind of reestablishing ourselves, regrouping and see[ing] what we really want, which is to defend our title,” he said.

“Nobody believed in us last season, and now coming into this one, knowing that we are champions, we should expect everyone to come and beat us. And we’ve just got to always have a good mindset.

“It’s not how you start. It’s how you end. That’s our mentality.”

Despite the challenge, Orozco said he plans to enjoy every minute of it — partly because, at 36, he isn’t sure how many minutes he has left. And the knowledge that he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning has made his time with Orange County special.

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“I’m not going to give up,” he said. “If my body can perform and I can still go and give it my all, then I’m going to do so. Once you step off the pitch and you say you’re hanging up your boots, that’s it.

“I still feel like I can give more.”

This OCSC team might be even better than the one that won the championship, having added former Mexican national team forward Cubo Torres to a front line that already featured Haitian international Ronaldo Damus.

Honduran international Danilo Acosta, who spent the last two seasons with the Galaxy, has joined the back line.

But the most important difference from last spring might be in the technical area, where Richard Chaplow will start the season as manager. Chaplow replaced Braeden Cloutier as head coach in August and led his team to a 10-3-4 record the rest of the way. The team was unbeaten in four postseason games.

“I don’t want to say it’s better. It’s just the names sound good,” Orozco said with a chuckle. “But it’s just stepping on to the pitch and performing with one simple idea, with having one thing in mind, which is performing as a team and getting a ‘W.’ If everybody has different ideas and tries to be selfish, it’s going to be hard to accomplish what we did last season because last season we didn’t have those big names. We all just worked hard for each other.

“Was it a process? Yes, it was a process. Now we’ve got to set a bigger statement [to make] because we are that championship team.”

And finally there’s this …

U.S. men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter earned $1.291 million last year, more than three times the $357,597 Andonovski was paid by the U.S. Soccer Federation in his first year as coach of the women’s team. The figures were revealed in the U.S. Soccer Federation’s tax filing for the year ending March 31, 2021, which was released Wednesday. Earnings for several women’s national team players also were listed. That list included goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher ($255,783), midfielder Julie Ertz ($254,945), captain Becky Sauerbrunn ($254,533), and defenders Abby Dahlkemper ($253,283) and Crystal Dunn ($253,283).

Podcast

Don’t miss my weekly podcast on the Corner of the Galaxy site as co-host Josh Guesman and I discuss the Galaxy each Monday. You can listen to the most recent podcast here.

Quotebook

“This is about more than football right now. We think about her as a person and think about what we can do to help her get her confidence back. We’ll support her, and we’ll make sure she gets back to where she needs to be.”

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New Zealand goalkeeper Erin Nayler on helping teammate Meikayla Moore get past her own-goal hat trick against the United States on Sunday

Until next time...

Stay tuned for future newsletters. Subscribe here, and I’ll come right to your inbox. Something else you’d like to see? Email me. Or follow me on Twitter: @kbaxter11.

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