The football team may have had this weekend off, but the University of Richmond Stadium didn't get a break.
Instead, a yellow midfield circle and goal box were painted over the white yard lines, goal cages replaced goal posts and stadium staff members prepared to welcome local soccer fans.
An announced crowd of 3,387 waved flags, blew air horns, snapped pictures and chanted "U.S.A, U.S.A.," as they watched the U.S. Women's National Soccer team, who won the gold medal at this summer's Olympics in Beijing, defeat South Korea, 3-1.
The small but energetic crowd -- which was made up mostly of families and included members of a local soccer team who joined the players on the field as the starting lineup was announced -- cheered especially loudly for forward Angela Hucles, a Virginia Beach native and University of Virginia alumna. She stepped into a starting role on the Olympic team after Abby Wambach was injured. Hucles went on to the lead the team with four goals in Beijing.
"It's the first time I've had the loudest cheers," Hucles said, adding that she was particularly excited to play in Virginia and that her parents, uncle and cousins were at the game. "It's great to be back home."
Hucles answered the cheers by scoring the first goal of the game at the 26th minute, a shot over South Korean goalie Jun Min Kyung. Midfielder Heather O'Reilly was credited with the assist.
Twelve minutes later, Hucles set up a second goal with a pass to forward Natasha Kai. Kai sent a cross-goal pass to O'Reilly, making the score 2-0 entering the second half, and giving O'Reilly a goal and an assist during the game.
"Scoring goals in soccer is a hard thing to come by," O'Reilly said. "It's the greatest feeling as a player. But it's also nice to set someone up -- I'll take either."
Midfielder Lindsay Tarpley scored the U.S. team's final goal, a 25-yard arching shot from the right sideline that went over the goalie's head and into the far corner of the net, at the 49th minute. Midfielder Aly Wagner was credited with the assist.
South Korea's only goal came at the 71st minute, off an unassisted shot from forward Hang Song I.
Head coach Pia Sundhage said the team had started slowly and seemed a little rusty, but had improved around the 20th minute.
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"We started to knock the ball around a little bit and today we scored three great goals," she said. "I think the whole team did a pretty good job today and there is something very positive to be said about every player."
O'Reilly particularly praised Hucles, both for her play during the game and for her performance at the Olympics and throughout the season.
"Angela Hucles has been on this team for a long time," she said, "and she's always been a great teammate -- supportive and ready for whatever role. We're so proud of the year she's had. The state should be really proud of her and her work ethic, and her as a person."
The team visited UR Stadium as part of the "Achieve Your Gold" tour, a series of friendly matches arranged as a showcase for the Olympic champions.
O'Reilly, who has been part of the team since she was 17 and who, at 23, is still its second-youngest member, said she was enjoying the tour because she was spending time with a group of women she called her family, and who had taught her a lot over the years.
"It's a lot of fun," she said.
Sundhage said the tour was important both because it gave the team the opportunity to have fun and because it helped the players work on mechanics. The game against South Korea, the first in a three-game series that will continue Nov. 5 in Cincinnati, was valuable, she said, because South Korea is a very technical team.
Hucles agreed that the tour was important, saying that it gave the players, who have not played a game since a Sept. 20 exhibition win over Ireland and who are not currently training together, the opportunity to keep their skills sharp.
"I think with the victory tour we want to win," she said. "It's about celebrating after our gold medal, so we're having fun. But we're also working for the future."
Contact staff writer Emily Baltz at email@example.com
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