The last time the United States women’s national team opened a World Cup, it scored 13 goals against Thailand. That pile-on isn’t typical and wasn’t a drubbing for the sake of sticking it to Yul Brynner. There was no downside to putting up the unanswered baker’s dozen for the sake of goal difference. The Americans again started the World Cup by facing an Asian side with much less experience on the global stage with one key difference: Vietnam didn’t roll over. This group-stage wasn’t expected to be a walk in the park, yet, the USWNT looking somewhat human still takes one ounce of pause. Only a 3-goal win over Vietnam? It doesn’t matter that the Stars and Stripes held a clean sheet! This is America dammit!
It was obvious within the opening minute Vietnam was a different challenge than Thailand four years ago in France. A hard tackle on Trinity Rodman made the USWNT doctors check on her. If you can’t beat ‘em, hurt ‘em! I mean, that’s not the most ethical strategy, but that’s all some teams will be able to do against this juggernaut of an American side. It was 1-way traffic for most of the match with Vietnamese goalkeeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh standing on her head. Only allowing a trio of goals with the help she had in front of her is pretty damn good. And I wouldn’t be shocked to see Vietnam give the Netherlands or Portugal a run for their money and steal some points from the final two Group E match days.
The big hero of the day for the USWNT was Sophia Smith, who scored two goals and added an assist on Lindsey Horan’s marker. Should the USWNT live up to expectations in the World Cup, Smith will have to be an integral part of that. Alongside Alex Morgan, she’s the best forward America has and, as evidenced by Morgan’s penalty-kick miss against Vietnam, the 22-year-old Smith’s time in the spotlight is only beginning. Vietnam might’ve tried to knock the US off its feet before the game began, but after the Americans settled into the contest, Vietnam’s defense was no match and should be near the lowest quality we see from an American opponent in the tournament.
The lack of a World-Cup-opening blowout shouldn’t be concerning to American fans. It’s better than playing an inadequate team. Vietnam dealt the USA its best shot, and the Stars and Stripes took it on the chin. The USWNT didn’t flinch and that’ll instill a ton of confidence into the team moving forward. Not all wins are designed to be pretty or easy. Neither was the case against Vietnam and, if a three-peat is on the table for America, welcome to the norm over the next month. Even with the USWNT not at 100 percent health-wise, evidenced by Rose Lavelle not starting and Megan Rapinoe also dealing with a calf injury, the Americans looked every bit the part of tournament favorites. And isn’t that what casual fans expected heading into the game?
The last team to win a World Cup that wasn’t the United States looked great in its tournament opener with Japan blitzing Zambia 5-0. The thought surrounding the Japanese was that they were aging. This wasn’t the same team that reached back-to-back World Cup finals in 2011 and 2015. While Zambia isn’t the greatest test to find out whether that’s true, this was the most impressive victory for any team in the tournament thus far.
While Denmark and England didn’t look dominant in their respective 1-0 wins, the goal was to win, obviously, and they did that. England’s result against a country it should’ve easily taken down is concerning, but the Three Lionesses’ lack of attacking prowess was always going to be a problem in this tournament. Denmark’s win over China should be more valuable, as the Danish were expected to compete with the Chinese for second place in Group D.