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

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Analysis

Klingenberg's goal-line clearance allows U.S. to draw Sweden, hold WWC Group D lead.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Friday, June 12, 2015) -- The United States women, inexplicably timid on attack, but very solid defensively, could not break down a stubborn Sweden and settled for a 0-0 draw before 32,716 in Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Group D of the Women's World Cup tonight.

The U.S. (1-0-1, four points) is in first place and primed to win the group Friday night when it faces Nigeria, considered the weakest member of Group D.

In today's other Group D match, Australia defeated Nigeria 2-0 behind two second-half goals by Kyah Simon. Australia is 1-1-0 with three points, Sweden 0-0-2 with two points and Nigeria 0-1-1 with one point.

Meghan Klingenberg made the play of the game for the Americans, heading Sweden midfielder Carolina Seger's drive off the goal-line, preserving the tie that allowed the U.S. to remain in first place.

U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo otherwise was not called on to make a save. Sweden's Hedvig Lindahl made two saves, but neither one was challenging. This match paired former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, now leading her native country, and American manager Jill Ellis, Sundhage's former assistant with the U.S. Both teams played timidly to start though Sweden seemed to be slightly more artful in the tightly played first half. The U.S., apparently the more fit side, came on strong after intermission to gain a substantial edge in possession, but the attackers could never convert balls played to the front of Sweden's net into dangerous chances.

The best U.S. chance came in the 35th minute when midfielder Megan Rapinoe, rolled a ball to overlapping defender Ali Krieger on the right side. She hit a sharply angled shot but straight at Lindahl.

The turning point came with 13 minutes left in regulation. Sweden's Elin Rubensson sent a right-side corner kick to the penalty spot. As midfielder Linda Sembrant headed the ball to her left, Klingenberg took to steps to her right, slightly left of center along the goal-line, leaving her perfectly positioned to head Seger's shot directly upwards. The ball hit the underside of the crossbar, bounced down on the line and was cleared from the box by Rapinoe. Solo was moving in the correct direstion, but was several steps away from the shot.

The American attack increasingly had possession after intermission, but failed to click in the Swedish box. All three U.S. substitutions were for attackers -- Amy Rodriguez came on for the final 32 minutes, Abby Wambach played the final 23 and Alex Morgan was used for the last 12. This should have given the U.S. a tremendous boost with fresh legs on attack, but it didn't.

The same was basically true in the midfield. A number of Americans played well individually, but did not play well together. The kind of cohesion that was necessary to break Sweden down was simply lacking.

The high point for the U.S. was its defense, especially Julie Johnson and Becky Sauerbrunn in the middle. They were everywhere, not allowing Sweden to get off a serious shot from the run of play.

A victory over Nigeria Tuesday would give the Americans the Group D title. Scenarios exist where the U.S. would place first with a tie or even a loss. The winner of Sweden- Australia will take second place, Sweden nabbing second in case of a draw. Four of six third-place teams also advance to the Round of 16.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis is going to have her team, especially the midfield, playing more effectively with each other if the Americans are going to challenge for the World Cup.


U.S. Player Ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Hope Solo - 6.5: She did not have much to d,o but commanded her area well. The two times she was out of position, her defense saved her.

Defender Becky Sauerbrunn - 6.5: She was strong defensively, while also moving the ball forward, especially when the Swedes gave the U.S. room to advance. The forwards should have done better with her crosses.

Defender Meghan Klingenberg - 7: She was rock solid, a great overall effort capped by her decisive goal line clearance of Sweden's only shot on target. She defended almost perfectly.

Defender Ali Krieger - 6.5: She also was strong, able to get forward often. A good effort from a U.S. veteran.

Defender Julie Johnston - 7.5: The young central defender was simply everywhere in back, making stop after stop both in the middle and ranging to the right sideline. She was the best American.

Midfielder Megan Rapinoe - 6: An effective workhorse in midfield, she made the passes that should have led to solid chances, but they just didn't connect. A bright spot in an otherwise muddled U.S. middle.

Midfielder Lauren Holiday - 4.5: She was helpful on defense, but going forward, she never seemed to link up successfully.

Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 4.5: Norway coach Pia Sundhage, formerly the U.S. manager, made negative comments that should have lit a fire under Lloyd, but strangely it didn't. Very little went right for her. Her passes misfired while she did little when balls came her way. Perhaps she was trying too hard.

Midfielder Sydney Leroux - 6: She was probably the best U.S. attacker and carried a lot of the load, but facing, at times, eight Swedish defenders, she could do little.

Forward Christen Press - 5.5: She had little go right when she was playing on top. When Rodriguez entered, Press moved back into midfield and did better, but overall it was not a strong night.

Forward Morgan Brian - 5: She had almost no impact on the game. When she was able to collect passes, she did little with the ball. Added to the starting 11 after coming off the bench in the opener, she did not make a forceful case that she deserves to be a starter.

Reserves

Midfielder Amy Rodriguez (58th minute for Brian) - 5: This was her moment to shine. With fresh legs against a Swedish defense that was starting to run out of gas, she should have produced some dangerous chances, but she didn't.

Forward Abby Wambach (67th minute for Press) 5: She tried, but never was able to connect with the ball. At other times, she simply did not make the run to get open. A surprisingly flat performance.

Forward Alex Morgan (78th minute for Leroux) - 4.5: When magic was expected of her, she had almost no impact. She just never got started.


SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Julie Johnston.


Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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