It wasn't pretty, but few opening matches in the World Cup are. Regardless of the play throughout the full 90 minutes, the U.S. Women's National Team was able to secure 3 important points in its first match against 10th-ranked Australia in the FIFA Women's World Cup.
To say that the U.S. 3-1 victory over Australia was propelled by the Seattle Reign would not be an exaggeration. It took two goals from Megan Rapinoe, a great assist from former Reign player Sydney Leroux, and some fantastic saves from Hope Solo to keep the USWNT on top.
There are reasons to be concerned, however. The U.S. struggled to contain the speedy Samantha Kerr on the left flank, and were absorbing a lot of tough shots to start the match. If it weren't for Solo, Australia could have been up 2 goals early on. Solo pushed ex-Reign player Emily Van Egmond’s shot off the crossbar in the 5th minute, and denied Kerr an amazing volley eight minutes later.
Despite the high pressure put on by Australia to start the match, the U.S. found the back of the net first. Megan Rapinoe scored in the 12th minute, when a shot from distance deflected off an Australian defender and found the far corner. This was one of the only shot attempts for the U.S. in the first half.
"Megan thrives in these big games, big moments," said U.S. coach Jill Ellis. "She’s got ice running through her veins, but a lot of passion inside of her. She's a game changer, and that's what makes her special."
Australia responded with a goal in the 27' from Lisa De Vanna, which was the result of some great combination play by Australia and some suspect defense from the U.S.
VINE- Lisa De Vanna scores for #AUS behind the goal angle #FIFAWWC https://t.co/TdPfQRD59Z— FanSided GIF (@FanSidedGIF) June 9, 2015
The U.S. is very much a second-half team, and it showed today. After struggling in the first half, and a quiet start to the second half, Christen Press gave the USWNT the lead in the 61st minute. Sydney Leroux was a key factor in the goal, driving down the left side of the field and picking out Press unmarked near the top of the box, who calmly finished into the far corner.
The U.S. calmed down a bit after this goal, and were able to maintain most of the possession, paving the way for this 78th-minute goal for Rapinoe. Australia gave her all the space in the world to take it down the left. Pinoe found an opening and seized it, putting the U.S. up 3-1. That kind of Pinoe goal might look familiar for those who have watched Reign matches in the past.
The second of @mpinoe's two goals was smooth. https://t.co/4S9BhOfIKx http://t.co/HrwkSUCCOW— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) June 9, 2015
The win puts the U.S. at the top of Group D after one match, as Sweden and Nigeria battled to a 3-3 draw. The U.S. face Sweden on Friday, June 12 and Nigeria on Tuesday, June 16 in Vancouver.
- Minutes for Morgan: Alex Morgan subbed in around the 80th minute, which is a good sign for the U.S. Morgan has not played since April, and has not been fully healthy for a long time. But when she is healthy, she is incredible. Here's hoping she can get some quality minutes in the group stage.
- Midfield: The U.S. continues to struggle to find its shape in the midfield. Christen Press is a more natural forward, and she continued to push inside during the first half instead of spreading the field. Carli Lloyd hardly got any touches on the ball in the first half. This team needs to figure out its shape earlier in the game.
- The importance of the U.S. centerbacks: While the U.S. looked shaky on the flanks, centerbacks Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston did a great job locking down the middle of the field. Johnston, who is just 23 years old, showed a bit of nerves early on, but settled into the match nicely. Like most great defenders, much of Sauerbrunn's great work goes unnoticed. Perhaps her most important play came in the 51st minute, when she chased down a very speedy Kerr, who appeared to be heading for a 1-v-1 situation with Solo, and blocked her shot for a corner. There is a reason Kim Little said Sauerbrunn was the toughest defender she's ever faced.