The United States Women’s National Team eventually beat Australia by a comfortable two-goal margin, but for 45 minutes Australia looked to be their better, or at least their equal. Saved by a brilliant performance from Megan Rapinoe, the USWNT will have to play much better to win the World Cup.
Australia had the first big chance, as Hope Solo was called to action just five minutes into the game, and barely tipped Emily van Egmond’s wicked shot onto the bar. The Matildas continued to hunt for a goal, and when a 12th minute deflected shot from Rapinoe wrong-footed the Australian keeper, it was against the run of play:
Australia kept their foot on the gas—Solo had to make another brilliant stop in the 16th minute—and were eventually rewarded for their industrious play:
Both teams had chances in the latter part of the first half, but it ended with the score 1-1.
As the second half wore on, the game began to get chippy as the referee lost control. Australia tired noticeably, and they launched far fewer attacks on goal. Still, the United States didn’t look likely to score either, and when they finally did it was off of a punt and a great individual run, not intricate build-up play:
With the second half lead, the USWNT finally looked comfortable, snuffing out almost every Australian opportunity and creating more of their own, resulting in Rapinoe’s second from a tight-angled shot in the 78th minute. After the goal Alex Morgan was brought on for the final 10 minutes, as she works her way back towards full fitness after injuring her knee.
The USWNT’s “problem”—that they have too many talented forwards and don’t quite know what to do with them—was apparent. Abby Wambach is the best forward in the history of American soccer, but at 35 and in her fourth World Cup, she struggled to play the full 90, and the pairing of her and Sydney Leroux up top didn’t work. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that Christen Press, perhaps the best American forward, was shunted out to the wing, and the very good Amy Rodriguez was sitting on the bench. Maybe Wambach should be a super-sub instead?
The midfield looked great after the 60th minute, but before then they were unable to control the game, mostly just pinging medium and long balls forward. It’s encouraging that they can kill off a game, but they were overrun by Australia for the first third of the game, and couldn’t grab it by the scruff of its neck during the second third.
These are probably minor problems. Hope Solo is still an insane (ly good) goalkeeper, and whoever starts up front is a world-class forward. Australia is a solid team; it’s not like the USWNT were struggling against one of the tournament’s also-rans. But the U.S. isn’t playing just to advance from the Group of Death, they are playing to win the entire tournament, and they’re going to have to play better than they did tonight to do it.