Coach praises Rapi­noe’s poise

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter kevin.bax­ter@la­times.com Twit­ter: @kbax­ter11

WIN­NIPEG, Canada — U.S. Coach Jill El­lis blamed the team’s early strug­gles in Mon­day’s women’s soc­cer World Cup opener on nerves since eight play­ers on the team were mak­ing their World Cup de­buts.

But one player she said she didn’t have to worry about was mid­fielder Megan Rapi­noe. And Rapi­noe re­warded that con­fi­dence with two goals in a 3-1 win by the U.S. over Australia.

“Megan thrives in th­ese big games, big mo­ments,” El­lis said. “She’s got ice wa­ter run­ning through her veins, but a lot of pas­sion in­side of her. She’s a game changer. And that’s what makes her spe­cial.”

Rapi­noe changed the game twice Mon­day, scor­ing the first U.S. goal with a shot that def lected off de­fender Laura Alle­way in the 12th minute, then drib­bling half the length of the field to score the goal that put the game away in the 78th minute.

On that sec­ond goal, Rapi­noe gath­ered the ball at mid­field and headed up the left f lank. Find­ing lit­tle re­sis­tance, she kept go­ing, build­ing speed as she went be­fore bury­ing a left-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area.

“I was do­ing my best [ Lionel] Messi im­pres­sion,” Rapi­noe said.

“A much slower ver­sion of it.” Mor­gan re­turns

A bone bruise to her left knee left Alex Mor­gan’s sta­tus for this World Cup in doubt. But a week af­ter re­turn­ing to regular train­ing, she made her first ap­pear­ance for the U.S. in more than two months, go­ing into the game in the 79th minute against Australia.

She man­aged only one shot, which went wide, in her 11 min­utes but play­ing at all, she said, con­sti­tuted a victory.

“It’s kind of a sigh of re­lief for me to be back on the field,” said Mor­gan, who ap­peared to be mov­ing gin­gerly on her way from the locker room to the team bus. “It doesn’t mat­ter how long it was. I’m glad I got on the pitch. I had no pain. Ob­vi­ously I was a lit­tle tired.” Solo is sharp for U.S.

A day af­ter two ESPN re­ports dug deeper into de­tails of her ar­rest on sus­pi­cion of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence last year — the case was ul­ti­mately dis­missed — U.S. goal­keeper Hope Solo ap­peared undis­tracted, mak­ing two spec­tac­u­lar saves in the first 15 min­utes.

“She’s tremen­dous,” El­lis said of Solo.

“She’s the best goal­keeper in the world. I thought that was on dis­play tonight.”

Solo said there wasn’t much time to re­lax or ref lect af­ter ei­ther play.

“It’s hard to get lifted as a goal­keeper be­cause you’re wait­ing for the next shot, the next play,” she said. Fan fest

Most of Win­nipeg has shown lit­tle in­ter­est in the World Cup.

How­ever, thou­sands of Amer­i­cans have crossed the bor­der to see the U.S. play, turn­ing pock­ets of the largest city in the prov­ince of Man­i­toba into a sea of red, white and blue.

One of those pock­ets was In­vestors Group Field, where Mon­day’s noisy sell­out crowd was de­cid­edly pro-Amer­i­can.

“A cou­ple of play­ers said it felt like we’re play­ing at home,” El­lis said. “It was tremen­dous. They were be­hind us.

“It was great to have that kind of noise and that kind of sup­port.”

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