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Analysis

Much better after halftime, U.S. women win World Cup opener 3-1 over Australia.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Wednesday, June 8, 2015) -- The United States women recovered from a slow start and a decidedly shaky first half with a pair of goals after intermission to get their Women’s World Cup quest off to a good start with a 3-1 victory over Australia before 31,148 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba to open Group D play this afternoon.

Sweden conceded two- and one-goal deficits in a 3-3 draw with Nigeria in the other Group D match today.

The U.S. was not very good for the first half hour against a surprisingly strong effort from Australia. Instead of playing defensively, the Matildas pushed forward and seem to catch the Americans by surprise. Only three strong saves by goalkeeper Hope Solo in the opening 45 minutes kept the U.S. in the match.

Very much against the run of play, the Americans jumped off to an early lead in the 12th minute thanks to a fortunate carom of a hard shot of a defender by left midfielder Megan Rapinoe. The play started with good passes from defender Julie Johnson and striker Abby Wambach, who was given an assist.

Rapinoe collected the ball, surprised a defender with a quick spin and launched a right-footed shot that struck Australia defender Laura Alleway, changed direction and landed in the right corner of the net.

The U.S. was disorganized on defense and bailed out by Solo, but she could do nothing in the 27th minute with a Lisa De Vanna blast from 15 yards that beat her at full stretch.

Almost as poor was the play by the U.S. midfield. Rather than trying short passes to teammates who had run into open space, the offense mainly consisted of balls over the top, hoping to reach Wambach. Part of the reason was that few players tried to run off the ball, so the Americans tried to force things down the left side with few positive results.

The U.S. was much better after halftime and began to find a way to win. It was more organized in the back and the Americans started to string passes together, moving forward.

It paid off in the 61st minute when midfielder Christen Press gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead with a first-timer from about 12 yards. The play started with a goal kick from Solo, controlled by Rapinoe near midfield. She pushed the ball ahead to striker Sydney Leroux on the left flank and she carried it to the edge of the penalty area to find Press for an accurate finish.

The U.S. dominated until the 78th minute when Rapinoe put the game away with her second striker, a solid left-footed strike from the left side after a long run to give the Americans to their final 3-1 margin.

It really wasn’t Australia defender Alleway’s night. The opening goal came off her back, Leroux turned her to get the ball to Press for the second U.S. tally. When she dropped off of the advancing Rapinoe, her unchallenged hard shot gave the U.S. its closing goal.

Alex Morgan replaced Leroux one minute later, marking the first time that Morgan has played a match for club or country since April 11 because of a bone bruise in her left knee. She returned to full training only earlier this week and now gives the U.S. an important attacking option going forward.

Whether it was nerves or an unexpectedly strong showing by Australia that led to the U.S. disorganization over the first 30 minutes. It was clear the Americans dodged a bullet and they will have to play better when it faces Sweden Friday in Winnipeg.

U.S. Player Ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Hope Solo - 7.5: Whatever her off-field problems, she continues the best keeper in women’s soccer. Her three saves in the opening half hour kept the Americans in the match. Her long clearances triggered the two U.S. second-half goals.

Defender Becky Sauerbrunn - 6.5: In the first half, she had to help stem the confusion in the back. In the second half, she showed the ability to stop even the fastest Australian and overall was one of the best U.S. players.

Defender Meghan Klingenberg - 5.5: She had some problems defensively, but perhaps, more importantly, the U.S. offense in the first half seemed to depend upon her overlapping runs which were few and far between.

Defender Ali Krieger - 5: She had problems early and then later with the pace of the Australians, but she received little defensive help from the midfield.

Defender Julie Johnston - 5: A first-time World Cup starter, she appeared to add to the early confusion in the center of the back-line. She did settle in and had a fine second half.

Midfielder Christie Megan Rapinoe - 7.5: While her opening goal might have been lucky, there was no luck needed for her second. Late in the game, she still had the energy to go on a driving 25-yard run and place a perfect left-footed shot into far side of the net.

Midfielder Lauren Holiday - 4.5: She had problems maintaining control of the ball, making too many give-aways. A weak link in the middle..

Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 5.5: Not her best game, but did come on stronger in the second half. Her steal and pass were the basis for the third goal..

Midfielder Sydney Leroux - 6: She was after intermission and most responsible for setting up the second U.S. goal.

Forward Christen Press - 5.5: Although listed as a forward, she often dropped back into the midfield. This did not help her, nor did it help her strike partner Abby Wambach. When she did play more as a striker, her chances improved up to her 61st-minute goal when she reaped the benefit of her positioning.

Forward Abby Wambach - 5: She just didn’t seem to be able to get unwound. Her usually deadly headers were high or wide. She was closely marked and that seemed to affect her. The good news is she showed she can play a full 90 minutes.

Reserves

Forward Tobin Heath (68th minute for Press) 6: She excelled at helping her team maintain possession in the midfield. This helped greatly over the final 20 minutes.

Forward Alex Morgan (78th minute for Leroux) - 6: It was simply good to see her run for 12 minutes in her first match appearance -- club or country -- since sustaining a bone bruise in her left knee in April. She did not do much, but she didn’t have to as she attempts to show she is ready for full-time duty.

Midfielder Morgan Brian (87th minute for Rapinoe) - no rating: A token appearance.

SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Megan Rapinoe.


Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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