Up to the challenge
Rapinoe, Solo help U.S. get out of the gate with a victory
WINNIPEG, Canada — It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t impressive.
But the U.S. team’s performance in its women’s World Cup opener Monday was effective, producing a 3-1 victory over Australia that moves the Americans a big step closer to the second round.
So all in all it was good day, with Megan Rapinoe scoring a goal in each half, Hope Solo making five saves — some in spectacular fashion — and the injured Alex Morgan coming on late and running around for more than 10 minutes in her first appearance in more than two months. But it wasn’t good enough to win a World Cup. “I want us to get better,” Coach Jill Ellis said. “I think it was just a combination of you’re playing a very good opponent right out the gate. There’s some new players on the field in a big, big moment.
“I don’t think we really played with a rhythm and just a sense of calmness about us. The important thing is we grew.”
Well, that and the fact the U.S. is the only team in its four-nation group with three points after one day of pool play.
It is, after all, a well-worn script, one Abby Wambach, playing in her fourth World Cup, has seen before: The U.S. stumbles out of the gate then picks up speed and confidence as the tournament goes on.
“It’s pretty par for the course,” she said. “We’re going to be a team, throughout this whole tournament, in evolution. We’re going be evolving every minute, every second.
“I’m confident that every single player on this roster is going to contribute in some way, shape or form.”
Monday the biggest contributions came from Rapinoe and Solo.
First up was Solo. With the U.S. searching for some consistency in the opening minutes, Australia’s Emily van Egmond latched on to a loose ball at the top of the penalty area and sent a hard shot on goal. Solo stood her ground, using both hands to punch the ball off the crossbar and out of bounds.
Rapinoe was next, taking a ball from Wambach and spinning to elude Van Egmond and create space before sending a shot off the shin of Australian defender Laura Alleway and into the net in the 12th minute.
The U.S. nearly gave that goal back a minute later, but Solo came up big again, stopping a Samantha Kerr shot that was headed toward the far post.
“Hope saved our rear end a few times,” Wambach said with a smile. “World-class goals she just handpicked away from the Australians.”
Solo wasn’t as fortunate on Lisa de Vanna’s shot in the 27th minute, which evened the score. But she wouldn’t be beat again.
And that gave her teammates time to regroup at halftime.
“It takes some time for us to get our feet under us and really get rolling,” Solo said. “We have some young players and so there are jit- ters, but even without young players it takes some time for us to find our groove.
“So I was kind of expecting that to weather the storm and we played a little bit more comfortable in the second half.”
Christen Press was among the first of the young players to break through, putting the U.S. ahead to stay in the 61st minute of her first World Cup game. Not surprisingly, Solo and Rapinoe had something to do with that too, with Solo beginning the sequence with a goal kick to midfield that Rapinoe corralled and sent forward, setting up the score.
Rapinoe handled the final one herself in the 78th minute, dribbling up the left f lank from the midfield stripe before turning toward the goal and booting a left-footed shot into the far-side netting.
Afterward Ellis admitted to a sigh of relief. “It was a challenging first game,” she said.
But it ended in a win that gives the U.S. something to build on.
“It’s not going to always be pretty,” Wambach said. “And that’s the moral of this story. We’re a work in progress. And hopefully we’re playing our best soccer by the time we’re done.”
MEGAN RAPINOE IS PUMPED after the first of her two goals, this one coming on a def lection off an Australian opponent.
CHRISTEN PRESS leaps into the arms of Lauren Holiday after giving the U.S. a 2-1 lead.
HOPE SOLO made a big save in the first half when the U.S. was trying to find its footing.