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With strong second half, U.S. women top Group C by blanking North Korea in WWC opener.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Tuesday, June 28, 2011) -- The United States women got off to a good start in the Women's World Cup's Group C with a 2-0 victory over North Korea today before 21,859 in the Rudolf-Harbig-Stadium in Dresden, Germany. The win did not come easily and the U.S. had to regroup in the second half after a lackluster opening 45 minutes.

Lauren Cheney, who was not supposed to start for the U.S., opened on the left side of midfield and caused the North Korean all kinds of problems. When Abby Wambach was given too much room in the left side of the penalty area in the 54th minute, she sent in a perfect cross across the face of the goal to Cheney, who backed away from her defender and placed a header back into the left side of the net for a 1-0 lead.

Central defender Rachael Buehler added an insurance goal in the 76th minute from a scramble in front of the Korean net and the U.S. climbed into first place with a plus-two goal differential. Sweden used a second-half tally to edge Colombia 1-0 in the other Group C match today.

The U.S. next plays Colombia Saturday in Sinsheim, Germany at noon, televised by ESPN and Spanish-language Galavision.

The Americans were clearly the more talented of the two teams, but one would have never known that over the first half. North Korea, the youngest and least experienced team at this World Cup, was fit and energetic while the U.S. was hard-pressed to create many chances.

The Americans started well, but North Korea came on strong later in the half and created some opportunities of its own. The U.S. had unexpected difficulty controlling the midfield against the more energetic Koreans, but it could not create any danger from this advantage. After intermission, the Americans were able to find space behind the Koreans, created a number of good chances and finally broke through. In the run up to this World Cup this team at times has had difficulty scoring. That was the case today as they played as if they knew they would win eventually and they really did not begin to effectively press their attack until into the second half.

"It feels great to have been playing the first 45 minutes, make some changes at halftime and come out even stronger than the first half against a very strong team in North Korea," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "I'm very happy with the way we scored the goals but, not only that, the way we played, being so sharp defending. It's a good start to the World Cup."

Cheney was the offensive answer today, but defense is not her strong suit and the U.S. looks possibly vulnerable on its left against better teams.


U.S. Player Ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Hope Solo - 6.5: The veteran, playing in pain because of her reconstructed shoulder, did all that was asked of her, including one great save on a shot from Kim Su Gyong.

Defender Amy LePeilbet - 5: Had trouble in the first half with speedy attackers, but did much better over the final 45 minutes.

Defender Christie Rampone - 6: A very good match; she cleared the ball on numerous occasions. Used her speed well.

Defender Ali Krieger - 6.5: A solid performance, especially in the first half. Was the best U.S defender.

Defender Rachel Buehler - 5: Not an outstanding game on the defensive end, but made up for her shortcomings by scoring the second American goal. Will need to do better as the opponents get tougher.

Midfielder Shannon Boxx - 5: Given the veteran she is, she did not have that good a match. Made more than her share of errors in a very uneven performance.

Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 5:: Like many of her teammates, she had a marginal first half and was better after that. Her accurate pass started the play that resulted in the first U.S. goal.

Midfielder Lauren Cheney - 6: An uneven performance. Was great at times, as in scoring the first goal, but her deficiencies on defense were clear.

Midfielder Heather O'Reilly - 6.5: Probably the best in the U.S. midfield. Good defensively and when attacking. Too often, she got herself in trouble by dribbling into traffic.

Forward Amy Rodriguez - 6: Did fine, especially in the first half when it seemed she was the only U.S. player having a good offensive game.

Forward Abby Wambach - 6: The best U.S. offensive player was closely marked. She has had trouble scoring of late and that was evident in her lack of finishing today, but she fed Cheney's decisive strike.

Reserves

Forward Alex Morgan (75th minute for Rodriguez) - 6: Added energy up front when it was needed and worked well with Wambach.

Midfielder Megan Rapinoe (79th minute for O'Reilly) - 6.5: Was unlucky not to be awarded a third goal that should not have been disallowed. Showed she probably should have started.

SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Abby Wambach.


Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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