The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) began their first group stage match surprisingly sluggish. Contrary to most analyst predictions, it was Australia and not the U.S. who began the match gunning for goal. In the fourth minute, Australian striker Michelle Heyman was called for a foul after she collided with USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo, knocking the ball out of her hands as she made a save. A short time later in the fifth minute Australia nearly made the U.S. pay for a poor clearance attempt by defender Julie Johnston. Midfielder Emily van Egmond was able to collect the ball at the top of the 18 yard box and take a hard shot on goal forcing Solo to make a strong handed save sending the ball ricocheting off the cross bar instead of into the back of the net.
The obviously nervy start by the United States ended in the 12th minute when midfielder Megan Rapinoe took a hard shot from outside the penalty box. The shot deflected off of a defender and into the goal for an early lead. In the 13th minute, Australia attempted to answer when U.S. defender Ali Kreiger was beat down the right flank. A cross was sent in and volleyed by Forward Samantha Kerr, who was unmarked in the box making a run to the back post. Luckily for the U.S., Solo was there to make the stop.
Australian Striker Lisa de Vanna proved to be a threat, stretching the backline and using her speed to get in behind. The U.S. defense began the match with issues marking as well as clearance—leaving de Vanna and others unmarked in critical areas through the first half. This forced midfielders Carli Lloyd and Lauren Holiday to play more defensively than usual. In the 27th minute Australia’s pressure of the U.S.’ back line finally paid off as de Vanna neatly placed a left footed shot in the bottom right corner of the goal tying the match. The play built from the midfield after a string of passes went unchallenged at the top of the U.S. penalty area.
The U.S. had an answer of its own to the Australian pressure: attack and possess. In the 39th minute, all-time leading international goal scorer Abby Wambach tried her luck when a free kick taken my Rapinoe was sent in to the back post. Wambach attempted a diving header, but the ball skimmed off her forehead and out of bounds. The half would end 1-1.
From the start of the second half, it was obvious that Australia could not match the fitness of the U.S. The roles seemed to reverse, the U.S. became more comfortable and organized, while Australia seemed tired and lacking urgency. In the 61st minute midfielder Christen Press tallied a goal when Rapinoe connected with Forward Sydeny Leroux on the flank. Leroux cut the ball back across the box to Press who took a left footed shot sending the ball into the lower right corner to the goal.
In the 64th minute, Megan Rapinoe was given a yellow card for pushing Australian forward Lisa de Vanna after tracking back to the U.S. defensive third. It was obvious that Rapinoe disagreed with the call as she approached the referee and tugged on the FIFA patch on her sleeve. A few words were exchanged before she jogged back to position.
The USA had a few more chances including a free kick that midfielder Lauren Holiday sent to the back post, but was directed out of play by forward Abby Wambach. The third and final goal of the match for the USWNT came in the 78th minute when midfielder Carli Lloyd cut off a pass in midfield and sent the ball to Rapinoe who made a run down the flank. Realizing none of the Australian players were going to challenge, she took a low, hard shot that found the back of the net. The match ended 3-1, with USA leading the group with three points.
The USWNT has a couple of issues to iron out before their next and predicted to be more challenging match versus Sweden. Namely, tightening up the back line and ensuring man-marking in the box, as well as ensuring all players know their roles. Christen Press seemed somewhat out of place in the midfield, compared to her natural role as a striker. Her tendency to pinch inward is better suited for getting making runs forward and getting in behind defenses, also this tendency left the flank wide open for Australia to exploit.
Their next match is Friday June 12th versus Sweden at 8pm/ET. This match will be televised on FOX.
-In this match, 17 NWSL players made appearances of the 47 total playing in the tournament.
– Although Australia has never won the Women’s World Cup, the only year they failed to qualify for the tournament was the inaugural year: 1991.
-The Matildas’ performance in the 2011 WWC was ended in the quarterfinals when they lost 3-1 to Sweden.
-The last time a player scored two goals in a World Cup match was Abby Wambach in 2007.