Up to the chal­lenge

Rapi­noe, Solo help U.S. get out of the gate with a victory

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter

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.”

Kevin C. Cox Getty Images

MEGAN RAPI­NOE IS PUMPED af­ter the first of her two goals, this one com­ing on a def lec­tion off an Aus­tralian op­po­nent.

Jewel Sa­mad AFP/Getty Images

CHRIS­TEN PRESS leaps into the arms of Lau­ren Hol­i­day af­ter giv­ing the U.S. a 2-1 lead.

Kevin C. Cox Getty Images

HOPE SOLO made a big save in the first half when the U.S. was try­ing to find its foot­ing.

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