MANCHESTER, England — Abby Wambach became the first non-British woman to score a goal at Old Trafford. She and her teammates celebrated by coercing Hope Solo to get on the ground and do “the worm.”
There were other such moments unfamiliar to the venerable home of Manchester United on Tuesday, when chants of “U-S-A!” echoed for the Americans’ 1-0 win over North Korea in front of 29,522 fans — easily the largest crowd ever to occupy the familiar red seats for a women’s game.
“The worm at Old Trafford! Are you kidding me?” Solo said.
The victory gave the U.S. team first place in its group with three wins in three games, the first time the Americans have ever swept their group opponents in Olympic play. They were already assured a berth in the next round entering the game, and they’ll now move on to Newcastle for a quarterfinal match on Friday.
Although claiming to be a reluctant participant, Solo and captain Christie Rampone flopped to the ground after Wambach’s goal in the 25th minute. The other nine players joined hands, wriggled their arms like a giant worm and pointed to the pair of players doing the funky dance move from the 1970s and ’80s.
“Hope doesn’t get involved in the celebrations very often,” Wambach said. “And so we wanted to get her involved, and she said the worm is one of the things that she can contribute, so we kind of planned it out before the game. Thankfully we got the goal so that we could actually display it.”
Solo could probably pick any dance she wanted, having appeared on “Dancing With the Stars” last year. Wambach said the celebration was a late birthday present for the goalkeeper, who turned 31 on Monday, but it also served to reinforce team camaraderie after Solo’s recent Twitter rant that prompted a meeting with the coach and captains.
“I think that Hope prefers the wins and the shutouts as birthday presents,” Wambach said. “But it was great to get her involved because it makes us feel what the game is about. It’s about fun. It’s about laughing and enjoying it out there — because how often are you going to say you played at Old Trafford and scored a goal?”
Old Trafford had hosted only domestic women’s games previously. The last one was an FA Cup final in 1989 that drew less than 1,000 fans.
“You think of the great players that have played out there before us, and the goals that have been scored,” defender Amy LePeilbet said. “It’s one of the highlights of my career.”
North Korea finished with a 1-2 record in the group and still had a chance to advance, depending on the results of Tuesday’s other games. The team completed the game with 10 players after Choe Mi Gyong was sent off with a second yellow card in the 81st minute following a tackle on Lauren Cheney.
The North Koreans are ranked in the top 10 in the world, but they remain an unknown in women’s soccer because their players and officials have limited interaction with other teams. They sent a very young squad to these Olympics: Their average age of 19 years, 11 months made them look like a junior club next to the Americans, who checked in at 28 years, 1 month.
“Our team is made up of very young players, so there is nobody who can blame them for not doing well,” coach Sin Ui Gun said through an interpreter. “This time it was a great experience for them.”
With a place in the next round assured, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage had her players take it easy in the second half, slowing the pace of play to keep the legs fresh for the quarterfinals. North Korea nearly capitalized with a tying goal, producing several scoring threats in a three-minute stretch that forced Solo to the ground twice.
“There were times when we could have possessed the ball better,” Sundhage said. “We were a little bit naive, naive in the middle. I can see the players want to do some great things out there — it is the Olympics — but sometimes we could have been a little bit smarter and kept the ball.”
Mostly, however, Solo had plenty of downtime to think about her next series of tweets. She ruffled feathers after the last game by using Twitter to criticize NBC analyst and former U.S. player Brandi Chastain’s commentary. Despite the meeting with the coach, Solo didn’t back down her comments and said Tuesday the team wasn’t affected by any distractions.
“Do you see the way our team is performing?” Solo said. “We’re having fun. We’re scoring goals. We swept our group. I don’t think there’s any distractions.”
The goal came on a play set up by Cheney’s long ball to Alex Morgan, who slid a pass between two defenders to Wambach for an easy tap-in and her third goal of the tournament. Morgan and Wambach both hit the right post in the first half, part of a series of near-misses that kept the score close.
“Even though some of us played 90 minutes, it was definitely a restful game for a lot of us, which is the most important thing,” Wambach said. “Because we need fresh legs going in the quarterfinals, which is where the fun begins. You lose and you go home.”