ORLANDO -- The loudest cheers, of course, were reserved for Abby Wambach — a Florida cameo for the onetime Gator who has more goals than anyone in the history of international women’s soccer. Alex Morgan and Hope Solo also got the celebrity treatment.
On a U.S. women’s national team already well-stocked in star power, though, a new one continues to emerge.
Sydney Leroux showed her finisher’s touch with two first-half goals Sunday, and Solo parried away any notion of a late Brazilian comeback in a 4-1 victory that finished off an unbeaten 2013 for the Stars & Stripes.
A sliding Leroux got her foot onto the end of a Heather O’Reilly cross at the far post to give the United States a 1-0 lead in the 15th minute. She struck again nine minutes before halftime, leaving Brazilian goalkeeper Thais and a defender sprawled on the turf before shooting.
“Two real striker’s goals today,” U.S. coach Tom Sermanni said. “A striker’s instinct on that first one, and a great run and composed finish on the second. She’s just grown this year unbelievably.”
Leroux now has seven goals in her past five games, dating to a Sept. 3 match in which she tallied four against Mexico. The 23-year-old striker finishes the year with 10 goals, one behind Wambach for the team lead.
“That’s my job, right? — scoring goals,” Leroux said. “So I hope I can keep it going next year.”
Wambach pushed her world-record goal total to 163 by converting a first-half penalty kick, and fellow Gator Erika Tymrak added her first international goal in the 77th minute.
Solo, though, was named the match’s top player after her second-half performance. On four occasions, Brazilian forwards sped toward goal in one-on-one situations. Four times they were denied.
“Hope came up big for us today — many times, actually,” Wambach said. “There were probably three that could have been easy goals for Brazil. Without Hope, this game’s a different game.”
Brazil, ranked No. 4 in the women’s international rankings, managed its only goal in the 25th minute when Rosana raced on to head home Rilany’s cross from the right.
Tymrak, a Bradenton native, came on as a 75th-minute substitute and scored just two minutes later when she tucked a low shot past Thais inside the left post. It was her first touch of the game.
“It was very surreal,” Tymrak said. “To play and score in front of all these people in my home state — it was a very incredible experience.”
A Citrus Bowl crowd of 20,274 was the largest for a U.S. women’s home match this year, coming just weeks after city and county officials approved funds to build a soccer stadium for an MLS expansion team. The league is expected to announce Orlando as its 21st franchise by month’s end.
“There are very few stadiums where I lose my voice,” said Wambach, who led UF to the 1998 NCAA title. “And my voice is about to go.”
The U.S. women finish the year 13-0-3, with two of the ties coming overseas. The other was a 1-1 tie against New Zealand two weeks ago in Columbus, Ohio.
Just once before has a U.S. women’s team finished unbeaten in a calendar year in which it played at least 10 games. That was 2006, when that team went 18-0-4. This team now owns a 39-game unbeaten streak since its last loss, a 1-0 result against Women’s World Cup titleholders Japan in March 2012.