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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

After Shaky 1st Half, U.S. Women Settle Down For 3-1 Win vs. Australia In 2015 World Cup Opener

They'll never admit it but the U.S. women's national team is facing plenty of pressure to deliver their first World Cup title since 1999. Tonight, in their 2015 World Cup opener at Winnipeg Stadium, they started slowly but found themselves in the second half of a 3-1 win over Australia. By virtue of Sweden's unexpected 3-3 draw with Nigeria which preceded this match, the U.S. is on top of Group D with three points.

In the first half, the U.S. did not look like one of the top teams in the world. In fact, if not for goalkeeper Hope Solo, who made two spectacular saves, they could have been down at least a goal or two. Instead they took an early 1-0 lead in the 12th minute on a fortuitous deflection. Megan Rapinoe had the confidence to take a shot from outside the box and she was rewarded as it bounced off a defender past Australian goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri.

The Matildas are ranked 10th in the world for a reason though, they are a quality side and not a pushover like some of the shameful results in the first few days of the tournament (10-0, 6-0 etc). They leveled things in the 27th minute as Lisa De Vanna hammered a shot into the corner that even Solo couldn't reach. The first half ended 1-1 and that seemed about right. Neither team made any changes at halftime but the U.S. clearly was a different side in the final 45+ minutes. They had way more possession which helped to slowly wear down Australia.

Midfielder Christen Press was playing in her first World Cup match and she immediately became a nationwide hero by scoring the game-winning goal in the 61st minute for a 2-1 U.S. advantage. Truth be told, ex-Canadian Sydney Leroux did most of the heavy lifting by beating her defender down the flank with her speed then passing it back to the top of the box where Press was able to one-time it in.

For good measure, Rapinoe scored a wonderful goal in the 78th minute (from Carli Lloyd) that basically sealed it. Australia gave her too much time and space to operate so she made them pay with a quick burst and hard, left-footed shot into the side netting. It was the first time an American woman had scored twice in a World Cup game since 2007.

The U.S. gets the pleasure of staying in lovely Winnipeg for the entire week as they will meet Sweden on Friday night (8, Fox) for what should be a must-see match vs. their former head coach Pia Sundhage. The fact that Sweden only gained one point in their opener means that they could really use three against the United States if they want to advance to the knockout stage. There has always been a nice rivalry between these two countries so this should be the latest chapter.

Hopefully the U.S. can come out much faster and I wouldn't be surprised to see midfielder Tobin Heath (who came on as a substitute in the 68th minute) start vs. Sweden. Alex Morgan is working her way back from an injury so she only appeared for the final 14 minutes. Abby Wambach had a rather poor performance by her lofty standards-missing multiple golden opportunities that she typically buries in the net-but she's not coming out of the starting lineup anytime soon and neither should Leroux.

In terms of cards for the U.S., midfielder Lauren Holiday and Rapinoe each picked one up in an eight-minute span of the second half. Holiday's was way more justified but they count just the same. Needless to say, they don't need Rapinoe (or to a lesser extent Holiday) to miss a match due to a suspension (2 yellow cards). Onto Sweden!

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