By JOSEPH WHITE
AP Sports Writer
NEWCASTLE, England (AP) - These were perhaps going to be the Hope Solo Olympics for the U.S. women's soccer team. Or maybe the Alex Morgan Games. Instead, they belong so far to the old reliable, Abby Wambach, who has scored in every match to lead the Americans into the semifinals.
The 32-year-old striker slid onto the ball in the 27th minute Friday to knock home her fourth goal of the tournament and then led a celebration of cartwheels _ a tribute to the gymnastics team _ in the United States' 2-0 win over New Zealand in the quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament.
"Everything she does on and off the field, she leads this team," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "She's in a good place, that's for sure."
Sydney Leroux added an insurance goal in the 87th minute for the two-time defending gold medallists, who will play Canada match in Manchester on Monday. The Americans beat the Canadians 4-0 in Olympic qualifying in January.
Wambach extended her U.S. record with her eighth career Olympic goal _ a mark she holds despite missing the Beijing Games with a broken leg _ and pushed her international tally to 142, only 16 behind Mia Hamm's world record. For most of the year, she has yielded much of the scoring load to youngster Morgan while using both holistic and traditional treatments to treat the nagging Achilles tendinitis that has bothered her for some three years.
"I don't know if it's the adrenaline, I'm not quite sure exactly what the reason is, but I'm not going to ask questions at this point," Wambach said. "I'm just playing pain-free for the first time in a long time."
New Zealand coach Tony Readings called Wambach "a nightmare," and the sight of the 5-foot-11 veteran battling multiple defenders and picking herself up off the ground has become so commonplace that her teammates hardly notice.
"Oh, we turn a blind eye to all of her bumps and bruises," goalkeeper Solo said. "She hits the floor, she hits the ground, it doesn't even faze us any more because she's tough. She might be hurting, but she's mentally tough. She has more of a lion and a passion inside that nothing will stop her, and she'll find a way to win. It rubs off on everybody.
"But maybe we should probably go up to her and say, 'Abby, you OK?'" Solo added with a laugh. "But we just ignore it."
Wambach's scoring spurt is remarkable given all the attention she draws from the opposition. Even though her speed isn't what it used to be, she's still one of the strongest players in the game and is unmatched in the air _ yet three of her four goals at the Olympics have come with her feet.
On Friday, she supplied the finishing touch to some hard work from Morgan, who took a long ball from Rachel Buehler, juked one defender and threaded the ball through two others toward the net. Morgan said it was a shot, but it turned into her third assist of the tournament _ finding Wambach's sliding right foot at the far post.
Wambach and the U.S. players, always looking for novel ways to display their happiness, then ran to the corner of the field and started doing cartwheels before the crowd of 10,441 at venerable St. James' Park, home of Newcastle. They tried to stick their landings _ something akin to what they saw on television from Gabby Douglas when they watched the American gymnast win the all-around title on Thursday.
"We obviously don't do it quite as well," Wambach said. "But we wanted to send a shout out to all the gymnastics."
No one has publicly criticized such celebrations by the Americans at these Olympics, but the New Zealand coach said it's something he wouldn't want to see from his players.
"I wouldn't like it if our team did that," Readings said, "when teams concede and they're disappointed and they want to get on with the game. But it's obviously something the Americans do. ... It's something I guess they work on in training. I hope we try to work on scoring goals and stopping Wambach and Morgan. We haven't got time to work on celebrations. If it makes them happy and they win games, then good on them."
Sundhage said she's been fine with her players' antics.
"I'm not a psychologist," the U.S. coach said. "We score goals, and you're happy. What the players want to do, whatever they do, it has to be fun. If they come up with ideas, that's perfectly fine."
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